A lot can change in a decade. A decade ago, the shopping process was anything but seamless. You visited a physical store to choose a pair of shoes and if you liked it, you would buy it. A decade down the line, the rigidity has completely disappeared. Today, when you have to buy a pair of good shoes, all you have to do is to take out a smartphone, visit your favourite e commerce portal, choose your most preferred pair, transfer payment immediately and get the stuff delivered at your doorstep; all within a few days or, sometimes, even on the same day. Or, visit a brick-and-mortar store, search for your favourite pair online using smart searches, get directions on finding it inside the store and immediately, make the purchase. It is that simple.

Embracing Digitization

Since the time businesses slowly started gaining momentum on the digital transformation front, retail has been trying hard to be at the forefront. As the focus of digitization is the customer and his convenience, the retail sector, which did not want to be left behind, started on ultimate benefits to the customer. The result is a mix of activities embracing digitization, in an effort to create a seamless, multi-channel experience for the customer.

Digital in Retail

With the customer as focus, retail now attempts to create an environment that enables a speedy, hassle-free and seamless buying process. The efforts till now have been laudable, with customers in many global locations using mobiles for purchase, even inside physical stores. Some such transformations are already in place, like the virtual mirror that promises to replace actual trial rooms. The virtual mirror setup has a motion capture camera that helps generate 3D images of the customer. The equipment can mix and match outfits or even cosmetics without the customer actually trying them out.

Digital Trends
Some of the latest trends that promise to speed up customer personalization and experience in the retail scenario are as below:

1) Mobility – Mobile devices in retail is a no-brainer. As an in-store technology, mobile devices in the hands of staff facilitate quick inventory checking, product detailing and payment services. From a customer perspective, mobile devices can be used as a channel for getting product information streamed at the right time. This creates an enhanced in-store experience. Mobile devices such as wearables, tablets and smartphones are a sure fire way to boost customer engagement both inside and outside the stores. In addition, e commerce sites rely on smartphones to enable quick and hassle-free purchases.

2) Augmented Reality – AR or Augmented Reality could be the next most exciting trend in retail. By allowing users to find out how their preferred product will look without actually having to try it out, AR promises to play a major role in raising the customer experience bar.

3) Virtual Assistants – With virtual assistants such as Alexa (Amazon) and Echo (Google) gaining prominence, customers should find it easier for making purchases online. Inside stores, virtual digital assistants such as the Alexa can help prospective customers by empowering them to take the right decisions regarding products and pricing. Chatbots are another alternative to virtual assistants that use voice.

4) Virtual Reality – Virtual Reality might be a little more complicated than Augmented Reality, simply because it needs additional hardware such as the VR headset to immerse the user in a recreated world. However, it can be a more effective way to engage the customer than the latter.

5) Big Data – Customer data is another important parameter that will zoom retail industry to the future. Vast repositories of data held by retail players need to be smartly utilized for effective mass personalization.

6) Cloud – Cloud offers a seamless user experience to customers and others in the retail scheme of things. Cloud facilitates this by making it easier for sharing information effortlessly with all the relevant stakeholders in the retail process. Accessibility is the key factor here that boosts customer experience.

7) Artificial Intelligence – Artificial Intelligence augments customer personalization. Using techniques such as Deep Learning and Machine learning, AI helps customers choose the most relevant products at the right time. Customers can ask questions, or chat with robotic assistants to uncover details about a product. AI also facilitates automation of mundane and repetitive tasks, freeing up staff time for more productive activities.

8) Drone Technology – Drones will be used for delivery of packages and for supporting security. Amazon Prime Air is an example and may form part of the ecommerce giant’s long- term strategy for delivery.

9) IoT – Sensors will be used to analyse and detect customer moods, depending on which the store can play music or direct them to specific products. Personalization is the greatest beneficiary here. Sensors can also detect customer heartbeats and eye movements to identify interest levels in a product.

10) Payments – Smartphones enable efficient and faster payments, saving on staff and customer time considerably.

By the looks of it, customers will be at the centre of digital transformation efforts in retail. By utilizing data, technology and human presence in a balanced manner, retail sector will succeed in transforming customer journey. Will it be a fruitful and profitable journey? Only time can say.