Doom-and-gloom headlines about the shrinking number of stores in malls, closing department stores, and thinning foot traffic have been everywhere lately, and not without good reason. If one were to venture a guess based on brick-and-mortar store performance, it would appear the U.S. consumer has stopped spending. But in fact, consumer spending has been rising steadily every year since 2009. It's just that an ever-greater number of people are choosing to do their shopping online. According to the U.S. Census Bureau's monthly retail report, retail sales were up 4.5% year over year in April, but online sales grew 12%.
The key internal capabilities needed to ensure a successful digital shopping experience are personalization, automation and the unique identification of the customer across shopping channels. In this report, we discuss how AI and IoT are impacting the retail industry. Retailers that aim to remain competitive cannot afford to ignore the potential benefits of these technologies. AI, a technology that enables computers to make autonomous decisions, is a step forward in automation that is changing the retail industry. Retailers are using AI to analyze customer data, adapt how they interact with shoppers and predict demand in order to better manage inventory. Because consumers are bombarded with an unprecedented amount of information, being able to deliver highly personalized content for each individual customer is crucial to staying ahead of the competition. Meanwhile, the use of AI to anticipate demand and estimate when items will be returned should translate into more efficient business operations. Digitalization is the key that will unlock the future of brick-and-mortar retail, and the IoT is a crucial part of it.
With a record 7,000 store closings and 662 bankruptcy filings last year, and 3,800 closings (and counting) so far in 2018, the fate of retail continues to look uncertain. Take a look at Amazon to see how ecommerce has changed the retail landscape as we know it, leaving no industry undisrupted. With just a click of a mouse, customers can purchase whatever they want, whenever they want it -- and have it shipped directly to their door. Related: Here Are 6 Weird Ways You're Being Tracked in the Real World While ecommerce offers unprecedented convenience, this is not the end of the road for brick-and-mortar. Customers still value in-store experiences.
The National Retail Federation's 2020 Big Show in New York was jam packed full of robots, frictionless store mock-ups, and audacious displays of the latest technology now available to retailers. Dozens of robots, digital signage tools, and more were available for retail representatives to test out, with hundreds of the biggest tech companies in attendance offering a bounty of eye-popping gadgets designed to increase efficiency and bring the wow factor back to brick-and-mortar stores. SEE: Artificial intelligence: A business leader's guide (free PDF) (TechRepublic) Here are some of the biggest takeaways from the annual retail event. With the explosion in popularity of Amazon, Alibaba, and other e-commerce sites ready to deliver goods right to your door within days, many analysts and retailers figured the brick-and-mortar stores of the past were on their last legs. But it turns out billions of customers still want the personal, tailored touch of in-store experiences and are not ready to completely abandon physical retail outlets.
Augmented/Virtual Reality Tools – Startups that leverage augmented or virtual reality to aid retailers in layout of stores and the design of promotional displays. InContext Solutions, which has worked with clients like Walmart, Nestle, and Kellogg's, lets brands visualize marketing concepts and test new designs on shoppers in virtual reality to gauge their efficacy before launch. Augment aims to help brands, such as General Mills, L'Oreal, and Coca-Cola, pitch their vending machines, kiosks, or merchandise displays to retailers by showing how they would look in augmented/virtual reality. Beacon-Based Analytics and Marketing – Companies that provide hardware and software to help stores track visitors. Many focus on data collection for internal analytics, such as merchandise tracking, adjusting staffing levels, monitoring promotions, etc. Euclid Analytics, for example, tracks visitors to monitor the impact of promotions on driving store visits and to better understand when people visit stores and specific aisles.