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Forbes: Retail Tech 2.0: Necessity Is The Mother of (Re)invention

June 11, 2020

At this point, I think most stores understand what precautions consumers expect in-store to feel safe and are starting to respond to these expectations. They are integrating no-contact protocols including mobile payments and self-checkout, social distancing, curbside pickup, masks and mapping store traffic. And of this is great and necessary. But in my view, the next frontier of retail is going to be owned by those retailers and brands who not only meet the bare minimum, but embrace this new world by integrating a bit of “cool” into the modern in-store shopping experience. And next-gen technology, once again, will be at the core.

We are already seeing some of these trends taking shape, particularly within stores that had started phasing in next gen tech into their formats prior to the pandemic. However, the challenge now is how best to pivot to expand usage or even find new ways to utilize this technology. Here are four technologies that are finding new life and purpose in the new world of retail.

Beacons

Prior to the pandemic, beacons were starting to gain momentum as innovative tools for push-marketing in-store. Beacons are small, battery-operated wireless devices that transmit Bluetooth signals to nearby smartphones. Beacons can reach customers who have Bluetooth enabled and specific retail apps downloaded on their phones.

For example, Macy's has been using beacons nationwide since 2014. When a customer opens the Macy's app in-store, the app recognizes which area of the store the customer is in. If the customer is in the makeup department, the app will remind the customer of makeup brands she already liked online.

Now, instead of only pushing marketing and promotional information (such as the best deals based on their shopping behavior), beacons can be repurposed to direct shoppers to the products they are looking for while also connecting to digital signage that gives them all the relevant information about the item. Beacons also enable retailers to streamline shopping experiences and shorten the length of time a shopper is in a store. This is also helpful to those shoppers who prefer to social distance and not come in contact with sales associates.

Augmented Reality

The trend toward augmented reality and smart mirrors was starting to gain momentum before the pandemic, hinging on the roll-out of 5G. This article from the Winter issue of Inc. noted that 5G would enable trying on clothing virtually, powered by high-definition screens that will replace traditional dressing rooms, while makeup counters with smart mirrors will let customers test lipsticks and eye shadows “without ever touching a physical product.” CB Insights predicted that by the end of this year, spending on AR and VR for retail could reach $59 billion.

Now, with many shoppers uncomfortable trying on clothing in dressing rooms or testing products at make-up counters, the no-touch ability of smart mirrors to modify a shopper’s image and create a very realistic augmented reflection - from the clothes they wear to their hairstyle, hair color, and makeup - will likely accelerate the growth of this market.

Well before the pandemic, Sephora made a lot of buzz with its reality mirror by ModiFace that simulates cosmetics on a user’s face photo-realistically in real-time, and others are following suit. MAC Cosmetics also recently launched an AR try-on tool for its e-commerce site. In clothing, we are already seeing brands get on board both with mirrors and with augmented reality apps. ASOS and Gap launched AR apps which allow users to shop by styles and select from five body types, helping consumers understand how clothes will actually fit.

Biometric Fittings

Just a few months ago, having a tool that was able to pair biometric data with AI to perfectly match a shopper with clothing that would fit their body was already a fun idea. But as shoppers look for alternatives to trying on clothing, innovations like Fit:Match are going to be expected more and more by consumers.

3D-AI apparel solutions that enable personalized and precise fit-predictions by capturing biometric images are becoming more prevalent. Using the data, this type of solution presents shoppers with only the items that fit them 90% or better when they shop participating brands, eliminating the need to ever have to try on clothes again. Volumental is a similar tech solution for shoes. Again, no-touch will win over high-touch for the foreseeable future.

Demand-Sensing Tech

3D-AI apparel solutions that enable personalized and precise fit-predictions by capturing biometric images are becoming more prevalent. Using the data, this type of solution presents shoppers with only the items that fit them 90% or better when they shop participating brands, eliminating the need to ever have to try on clothes again. Volumental is a similar tech solution for shoes. Again, no-touch will win over high-touch for the foreseeable future.

As the retail industry hits “reset” and charts a course to smarten every step of the shopping journey, from discovery to purchase and return, retailers need to not only make shoppers feel safe, but wow them with new, innovative experiences (in or out of the store) that go hand-in-hand with safety in this new world. If retailers and brands that are currently listening and leveraging the voice of their customers are able to incorporate a strategy that quickly adapts to meet the modern consumer mindset, they’ll not only align themselves with the future of retail, but have a hand in shaping its future.

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