In April 2015, Amazon, Audi and DHL announced the trial of a car boot parcel delivery service. The idea was that parcels could be delivered directly into your car boot - wherever it is parked - for secure and convenient receipt of online orders.
At the time of writing it hasn’t been put into wider use, but nevertheless seems an entirely plausible idea - perhaps even outdated given that it still requires a human to deliver the package to the car! This is 2017 for heaven’s sake, where are the drones or the robots? But consider the fact that just two years ago this was perceived to be a potentially ground breaking innovation and you get a sense of the pace of tech development that has been sweeping the retail industry over recent years.
Innovation driving change
Retail is changing at an incredible pace. As consumers, the way we source, purchase, pay for, collect and receive goods is changing, as is the way in which retailers communicate with us. This is being driven, or at least facilitated, by innovation of technology.
Some of those innovations were quickly adopted and soon became a part of everyday life. Take payments, for example. It’s not too long ago that chip & pin was introduced and already it has been eclipsed by contactless payments with smart phone integration for added convenience.
Other innovations, such as drone deliveries, have not been so quick to take off (pun intended!) even though it has been talked about for years. Despite high profile trials, obvious challenges have not yet been overcome, and it seems drones may yet be overtaken by robots, if Tesco’s recent trial of robot deliveries is to be taken seriously.
So what’s next? What tech innovations will we see major retailers truly embrace in the short term future?
We can expect to see retailers take full advantage of AI (artificial intelligence). We are already seeing this to some extent with digital assistants like Alexa offering voice activated shopping, ‘bots’ delivering sophisticated automated customer service responses and intelligence-led segmentation and promotion of products on ecommerce sites.
We can also confidently predict that checkout-free shopping will signal the next stage in contactless payment, judging by the initial success of the Amazon Go concept store. Similarly, Barclaycard’s new ‘Grab and Go’ technology would allow shoppers to scan items using their smart phone and pay without the need to visit a checkout. If technology like this could be successfully rolled out, this would truly represent a virtual revolution for bricks and mortar retailing.
Expect also to see more bricks and mortar retailers exploit the opportunities of VR (virtual reality) and AR (augmented reality) to differentiate and create in-store ‘experiences’ which pure play ecommerce retailers cannot offer. With this in mind, expect social media channels such as Snapchat and Instagram to play a big part in retailers’ marketing strategies going forward.
Realising the benefits
In all of these examples and more, tech is being used to help retailers gain a competitive advantage. Whether enhancing marketing strategy, creating memorable in-store experiences, improving ecommerce service or facilitating faster delivery, tech is helping to drive efficiency and quality - and that can only be a good thing. I, for one, can’t wait to see what the future holds.