By Fergal O’Carroll, CRO of Scurri
In recent times, global developments have caused numerous supply chain issues in the retail sector. However, new technologies have made the last few difficult years somewhat more manageable, and despite the setbacks, innovation is once again creating opportunities for retailers.
Areas such as fashion and clothing are leading the way in this pursuit of a more tech based business model. Other categories might follow suit over the course of the next few years. The most forward-thinking leaders and businesses will do best in this time, so it is crucial for brands to utilise the advantages that tech can provide.
One of the most visible shifts we have noticed in recent years is that online stores and ecommerce networks have become increasingly important in the retail market worldwide. This has been due to modern technology, not just in enabling the creation of websites and social media networks for increased advertisement, but in the running of fulfilment warehouses which aid the operational running of an ecommerce network. We are also seeing a clear evolution in online commerce in 2022, that can be seen as the beginning of the end of destination-based ecommerce sites like Amazon, Alibaba and other legacy ecommerce players. Digital commerce is moving from centralised and search-based, to becoming ambient, and built into entertainment and social experiences.
The involvement of tech within retail businesses will continue to allow rapid growth for many businesses. We have already seen the addition of AI chatbots for ecommerce and aid customer service. AI has also started to be deployed to make ecommerce shopping experiences and curate a more personalised affair through the virtual visualisation of products.
Tech can be of aid in reducing the volume of returns and increasing customer satisfaction. The implementation of AR/VR technologies, particularly for ecommerce retailers, which can allow the buyer to see what an article of clothing may look like on before the point of purchase – an almost virtual dressing room – or how the sofa they are looking to buy may look in their virtual living room. These advancements can slow the rate of returns, benefiting not only the customer and seller, but also having positive mass impacts on the environment.
Retailers are beginning to look outside the scope of traditional experiences and offer consumers a futuristic approach to their shopping experience – most notably with the integration of blockchain technology for things such as bitcoin payments, and the possibility of being able to sell NFTs via their ecommerce platforms.
The term ‘metaverse’ and what we can do within it has continued to gain traction within the business world, with many sectors now looking to see how they will fit in. The metaverse is still in its own early stage, and for forward thinking retailers it is best to grow with this new concept, learning the possibilities and advantages that this technology may provide their business offering. The metaverse can provide retailers with a way of blending physical and virtual worlds and experiences for their customers, and creates a new perspective on what the standard shopping experience can be in the future.
Fashion retailer Ralph Lauren was one of the first global brands to demonstrate how retail and the metaverse could merge, offering users the ability to browse and try gender-neutral digital clothing from their clothing collection on the Roblox gaming platform. Providing a memorable user experience for these virtual shoppers, visitors to the virtual Polo Shops of Ralph Lauren on Roblox can additionally enjoy other experiences with the world, such as ice-skating or roasting marshmallows.
This shift towards tech will also contribute to the future of the retail workforce, with new jobs being created that would have been hard to imagine even five years ago. Areas such as the green space, tech (including delivery automation and drone services) and further automation in all areas of business and retail are where we can see the clearest advancements, and as these occur so will employment needs for companies. Retailers will need to dig deeper for an understanding of what’s driving the accelerated rate of change in the industry and to respond with the corresponding strategies that match those forces.
There is a general concern that robots and automation will replace human jobs – however, with this comes an opportunity for the creation of new jobs in the future. A merger between human and AI in the retail sector will require management, regulation and monitoring – and with this, fresh opportunities for job creation. There will be more need for customer service and less for cashiers; more need for problem solving and return resolution; and finally, more need for innovation and technology skills.
The use of drones as a last-mile delivery service looks to become increasingly common over the next decade. As delivery options expand and become more technologically driven, online retailers will need to have support and staff in place to manage the advancements in delivery services. Roles surrounding monitoring these drones, in addition to other methods of delivery, might prove critical to providing the best customer experience.
Additional roles that may face alternation and create new roles as a result include human resources, recruitment pivoting into selection of the best pieces of technology for the company in addition to selecting the best people, and managers shifting from managing humans but also technology. These hybrid jobs show that while technological advancements may penetrate businesses at a growing rate, this does not mean current jobs will disappear, but adapt and create new employment roles for retailers.
It is the retailers who have their finger on the pulse that will continue to perform best in the years to come, adapting to new tech, new ideas, and embracing the changes that COVID-19 brought. Ecommerce is still benefiting from the pandemic online retail boom for now, but the economic headwinds are getting stronger. Now is not the time to over rely on a particular solution or technology set, now is the time to explore the full range of innovations, and prepare for a future that will present new challenges.