Emerging technologies in retail boost e-Commerce sales
Emerging technologies have been revolutionary to the e-Commerce industry. Not only has emerging technologies enabled the industry to get more insights from their consumers, but it also enabled them to offer more personalized experiences for them.
Most e-Commerce platforms today rely on several emerging technologies leveraging AI and the cloud to improve both their performance and customer expectations. For retailers, the opportunities with emerging technologies are also endless. The omnichannel experience is now being highly sought after by some retailers with brands investing heavily in them.
IBM’s “Consumers want it all” report also states that retailers and brands must shift their sustainability strategies and cater their shopping experiences to meet evolving consumer demands in 2022.
However, before investing heavily in all of these, retailers need to understand how exactly can emerging technologies help them improve their online sales. For example, most e-Commerce apps are now moving towards shoppertainment to engage with their consumers. However, not all retail products can cater to these.
Another example is the use of augmented reality tech in applications. While the experience it brings enhances the customer experience, some products like groceries for example would not really need such tech. In fact, for retailers selling groceries, they should look more towards supply chain technologies to ensure they have sufficient products for their customers.
To avoid the mismatch of emerging technologies and the retail sector in Southeast Asia, Tech Wire Asia speaks to IBM Consulting’s Charu Mahajan, Partner & Sector Leader for Consumer Goods, Retail, Travel & Transport.
A variety of emerging technologies in retail
According to Mahajan, there are several emerging technologies and applications retailers can adapt to boost their online sales. They include cloud computing, mobile applications, augmented and virtual reality, personalization tools, blockchain, virtual assistants, and social commerce.
As retail today is being driven by consumers who want to search and purchase their goods online and on the go, at any time of the day, retailers need to be able to deliver seamless experiences to their consumers, from an updated product catalog to AR/VR-enabled online trying rooms, to real-time loyalty programs and digital payment gateways to ensure a convenient sale.
Mahajan said retailers are also gathering data about their customers to deliver more a personalized shopping experience. Retailers also need to provision for surges during peak festival periods or what we saw recently during Covid-19 closures. This requires retailers to embrace the full computing power of the cloud, as it caters to the dynamism of the business and provides a scalable infrastructure for retailers’ e-Commerce needs.
Today, there is a myriad of cloud computing services that are able to collect and analyze data for retailers, providing them valuable insights to make data-driven decisions that can improve their sales.
The same applies to the mobile experience as well. Mahajan pointed out that with more people browsing on mobile devices than a desktop, having a mobile-friendly website is essential for delivering a superior customer experience.
At the same time, with AI and machine learning evolving at breakneck speeds to support the accelerated shift towards e-Commerce, AI-powered virtual assistants (or chatbots) have become smarter and more human-like. This has also been a key trend during Covid-19, as workforces have been impacted and store closures have meant that consumers might not always have a human to help them during their search and purchase phases.
Chatbots can deliver exceptional customer experience by bridging the gap between physical and digital retail, by offering help at any point in the purchase journey. By reducing waiting times and offering consumers immediate convenience, chatbots result in greater online conversions and enable cart recovery. They also help decrease support and telephony costs for businesses, especially important as margins are getting squeezed.
Emerging technologies like augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) may sound pricey and complicated for most retailers. However, Mahajan believes it is key to making consumer experiences more immersive and allowing them to have a real-time interaction with the products while being in their own environment.
“We saw these technologies being used during Covid-19, where consumers couldn’t step out of their homes – from placement of the furniture in your home to trying on new shades of make-up – these technologies help bridge the gap between the online channel and the physical store,” she commented.
Visibility and personalization
When it comes to personalization, Mahajan highlighted that this is key to driving better engagement, sales conversion, and loyalty. She believes that consumers are more likely to shop on websites that offer a personalized experience, as it enables the consumer a more convenient way to shop by only showing them products that match their preferences and need-states.
While features like AR, VR, and customer data insights can cater towards personalization, the modern consumer is also looking for beyond just purchasing a product. With 1 in 5 consumers wanting information on what makes products sustainable – where are they sourced from, where are they produced and manufactured, how to re-use, return or recycle – companies are focused on proactively communicating the sustainable advantage of their products by tracing the source of raw materials and highlighting the product’s environmental impact through the use of technologies like blockchain.
“The transparency offered by these emerging technologies helps consumers make more confident choices towards sustainability. The use of blockchain in communicating the source of materials and making visible the footprint of the products as it passes through the supply chain into consumers’ homes, will be a critical advantage for companies and brands looking to appeal to consumers’ changing preferences towards a sustainable future and the rising focus on health and wellness,” explained Mahajan.
Lastly, visibility and personalization can go hand in hand with social commerce. In Asia, Mahajan pointed out that social media has already become a bigger shopping format than even physical stores. Shoppers are spending a lot of time discovering, searching, and purchasing within the social media ecosystem. Pervasive smartphone penetration – especially in SE Asia and China – and supporting internet infrastructure means that consumers are able to access their social media at any time.
The presence of social media influencers and communities online, the ability to text and get information on products, and embedded digital payments mean that consumers can shop while they interact with their networks online.
With all the above mentioned, retailers have a variety of options they can look to boost their online sales. However, its prerogative for them to be aware that the more technologies they apply to their business, the more data they will be collecting as well. Retailers need to be able to use the data wisely without breaking any regulatory rules.
As such, our third and final part of the interview with Mahajan will discuss how retailers can make use of their data and where they can draw the line when it comes to handling customer data.