INNOVATION INNOVATION

INNOVATION INNOVATION

The future of high street retail looks increasingly as if it will depend in large measure on how retailers keep up with public expectations about in store technologies. Physical stores have a significant part to play in the transaction process, therefore how retailers leverage technology to engage with customers in stores is key to their success. Artificial intelligence (AI), augmented and virtual reality (AR and VR) are already familiar to consumers, who even if they cannot identify them, expect these technologies to enhance and expand their experiences in a store. This growing consumer awareness of the applications based on these technologies is pushing change on high street retailers whether they like it or not. Vista conducted a survey earlier this year and found that more than two-thirds of consumers believe retailers should make these technologies a priority. It is far too easy, when confronted by such results, to assume that consumers do not fully understand. Yet they already use AI in chatbots and voice-activation technologies such as Amazon Echo, Microsoft Cortana and Siri. In a store, AI voice-activation offers significant advantages. Staff can immediately obtain accurate information about products and services via a headset, saving time for customers. Consumers can also help themselves through a dedicated kiosk, discovering products available from the retailer that they were not previously aware of. AI-based virtual assistants and applications also help get rid of queues. Consumers can use these applications on their smartphones and complete the transaction quickly. While 70% are familiar with AI applications, two thirds say they have yet to encounter the technology in a store. This is partly because AI is effectively a computer based technology that you can’t always see, touch or feel. Users would interact with it through devices that use AI to power the information and experience. VR headsets, which create an artificial 3D environment, are increasingly part of the infrastructure of gaming, as anyone who enjoyed Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, will know. Yet for the moment, VR in retail tends to be restricted to providing spectacular promotional experiences, such as test-driving a car in dramatic landscapes. AR, on the other hand, which combines reality with the artificial images generated by the software, or voice recommendations for purchases based on the user’s digital profile and social footprint, has more direct impact on helping shoppers. An Augmented reality (AR) app downloaded by the customer to their smartphone will allow a big TV system or new three-piece-suite to be overlaid on to a consumer’s living room to see how it looks before making a purchase. The customer can see how they will look in a new suit, hat or hair colour as technology super-imposes images precisely, with sophistication, enabling customers to move quickly between different styles, sizes or colour tones. The preferences and choices can be retained to save time and increase customer-recognition and personalisation online or in the store. Even if customers do not want to download apps, they can use smart mirrors for the same effect. These devices, too, can make recommendations to save the customer time. In cosmetics, smaller smart mirrors allow shoppers to try out alternatives and act on recommendations without using the products. Three-quarters of shoppers who had used AR in store saw its value and would use it again. The danger for the UK high street is that retailers will be too slow in implementing. Too often these technologies can be viewed as “futuristic” and loaded with expensive pitfalls. Retailers need to be as excited about AI, VR and AR as their customers and bolder in meeting new expectations.

Stephanie Cornwall
ADMINISTRATOR
PROFILE