How the Use of Technology in Retail Stores are Helping Them Withstand Competition

A look at how the use of technology in retail stores are helping them outplay the e-Commerce giants

It’s no secret that retail businesses are going through a pivotal phase; an existential crisis triggered by skyrocketing rate of digital adoption and the burgeoning presence of biggies like Amazon and others. The pandemic with its perennial need to follow social distancing and stay-at-home mandates has strengthened the demand for eCommerce.

Just about one-third of U.S. consumers were willing to enter shopping malls again in April 2021 while 25-48% of European consumers from different countries were keen on avoiding brick and mortar stores even in the beginning of 20211

The decline in the demand and popularity of physical stores has had a crippling effect on several businesses. Some declared bankruptcy while others closed down a few units to shrink their business. The list of store closings is rather long – a record 12,200 stores2 to be precise in the U.S. alone in 2020.

At a time when profits are becoming elusive and footfall remains uncertain, the retail sector, especially boutiques and smaller businesses, are up for a major upheaval. The decline is evident but it’s definitely not the end for the traditional brick and mortar stores experience we’ve so thoroughly enjoyed all our life. As the legendary Mark Twain would have said, “the reports of the death of brick-and-mortar stores are greatly exaggerated.”

A lot can be done to shift the tide in their favor. The onus is on local and boutique retailers to ensure that the gratification continues albeit online for their customers. Luckily, it’s not so difficult if you identify the core areas that draw customers to the in-store experience and leverage the technology spectrum accordingly.  

Averting the retail apocalypse

A bit of a tweak in your approach and digital adoption can put you on the road to retail recovery. See how Nordstrom revamped their business model to serve its customers. Be it a quick fix for a leather jacket or getting pants hemmed in an hour, the sprawling flagship store offers everything from style tips to personal guidance for free to its customers. As Sonia Lapinsky, managing director at Alix Partners puts it, “Nordstrom is providing a reason for the customer to walk in the door.”

Relevance is the key here and all the resources, be it time, money, or efforts, should be used to elevate the customer experience. Ultimately, it’s all about the relationships you build with your customers especially when 56% of customers stay loyal to brands that ‘get them’.

Taking a cue from its biggest competitor Amazon for the digital maturity it has achieved in such a short time, Walmart too had transitioned to eCommerce in a big way. It has witnessed a 97 percent3 surge in eCommerce sales with total revenues increasing by 5.6 percent to $ 137.7 Billion. With the help of AI, Walmart is helping buyers make smarter substitutions for out-of-stock products by suggesting them the next available items. Their choices are analyzed and fed into learning algorithms to make more accurate recommendations in the future.

With artificial intelligence (AI) at the heart of all their initiatives, both brands are taking the eCommerce world by storm while underlining the potential of emerging technologies.

Retail with a digital edge

There are 7 areas of retail that are of paramount importance to ensure the most satisfactory shopping experience for buyers. These include:

  • Swift digital payments – As consumer faith in online transactions has grown, contactless, digital payments have become the norm.
  • Smooth navigation – With better search algorithms and smarter devices, the shopping experience is expected to be omnichannel.
  • Centralized inventory – Digital businesses enjoy greater economies of scale and improved turnover due to centralized inventory with smarter technologies and robotics at the helm.
  • Ease & convenience – The craving for something and the convenience to have it right away can translate into greater satisfaction.
  • Product experience – Through touch and feel, consumers want to physically experience the things they buy.
  • Immersive exploration – Consumers love to be involved in brand journeys and eagerly participate in activities that involve entertainment and engagement.
  • Personal advice – It is always heartening to know you are understood and expert advice is always welcome.

Leveraging new technologies to excel in these areas can help you regain strategic momentum and offer a uniquely differentiating customer experience.

Here’s how you can win the digital game.

Go BOPUS (BOPIS)

A lot of retailers are going the ‘buy online, pick up in store’ way to blend the speed and convenience of eCommerce with the in-store product experience. Nordstrom Local is leveraging it well to offer pickups and returns along with express alterations and a whole lot of services to walk that extra mile to ensure customer satisfaction.

Says eMarketer’s vice president of forecasting Martín Utreras, “BOPUS provides tangible benefits to both consumers and retailers. Consumers get convenience, instant gratification, and avoid shipping costs. Retailers reduce operational costs, and it gives them the opportunity to bring customers back to physical stores for additional purchase opportunities.”

Make sure that you offer speed and process efficiency like Amazon Go that bypasses the checkout altogether with a grab-and-go model or Target’s in-app shopping lists that offers aisle to aisle assistance to customers in the physical store.

Prioritize personalization

Thanks to AI, retailers now have the data and intelligence necessary to understand their customers’ shopping habits and choices. You can personalize marketing content, customize newsletters, and entice them with relevant ads on social media based on their social footprint, location, hobbies, and other factors. You can also make product recommendations via email marketing to generate leads and revenue.

The right product recommendations aligned with their tastes will not only enable the discovery of new products but also instill trust. Case in point – Hanes Australasia dramatically improved its revenue and grew across new and existing markets with AI-based personalized recommendations.

Provide 24/7 customer care with Conversational AI

Brands are increasingly leveraging chatbots to offer personalized assistance and customer service round the clock. Assistance can now be offered through speech and text in local languages with natural language interactions. The benefits of having chatbots are many – greater operational efficiency, minimized manual effort, increased customer satisfaction, and lower handling costs. Automated customer care does not take away the human connection but strengthens it by ensuring that customer concerns are heard and addressed on priority.

According to research4, 40% of shoppers don’t care whether they are assisted by a tool or human as long as they are attended to while 80% of consumers who have engaged with a chatbot claim to have had a positive experience.

Bolster the supply chain

Addressing supply chain challenges can be stressful for retailers and inefficiencies can result in loss of revenue and dissatisfied customers. Inventory optimization is crucial in this era of fast-changing demands. AI-powered inventory optimization helps businesses increase the accuracy and granularity of SKU and store-level stock planning, preparing them to handle sudden shifts in demand. Routing, end-to-end transaction visibility, and dashboards for inventory tracking are some of the many solutions you should consider to drive agility and maintain business continuity.

What’s more; it also helps analyze costs to create a pricing model that determines the right price for your products while staying on top of managing supplier costs. This kind of dynamic pricing is being used by Walmart and Amazon too due to the tons of data they have, with the latter reportedly changing its prices 2.5 million times a day.

Drive an omnichannel experience

To facilitate a seamless shopping experience both online and offline, it is important to ensure it’s omnichannel. Whether customers shop via mobile device, laptop, or a physical store, there has to be back-end integration of distribution, promotion, and communication channels for greater flexibility.

The same experience should be extended on social media too to enable a high level of customization. This also helps you provide targeted offers while creating more engaging ways to interact and connect with customers.

Starbucks struck a chord with patrons through its loyalty program that encouraged them to earn stars on their purchases. These stars could be redeemed for free products, top-ups, etc. through their app or website. The program not only served as a fine example of customer engagement but was responsible for 40% of its total sales.

Evaluate virtual fitting technology

The ‘try before you buy’ psyche is here to stay which explains why the global virtual fitting room (VFR) market is expected to touch $ 10 Billion by 2027 at a CAGR of 20.1%. Virtual try-on and fitting rooms enabled using Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality are catching on big time making both sellers and buyers very happy.

While apps like SneakerKit help you choose the right footwear, there are apps for virtually everything you wish to buy from hats and glasses to clothes and masks. Brands like Macy’s, Adidas, and many others allow users to upload a full-body photo and then try on clothes based on their body type. Getting a feel of what they are buying offers both comfort and confidence to buyers.

In closing

Business models need to be altered keeping the following objectives in mind:

  • Ensure convergence across channels and touchpoints as boundaries between the physical and digital worlds blur.
  • Customize the delivery format based on changing shopper behaviors through personalization
  • Collaborate instead of competing with other suppliers and retailers to enhance customer value
  • Improve the value proposition through interactions and communication in real-time.
  • Facilitate self-learning through AI-enabled data to enhance customer satisfaction.

Create a seamless customer experience with Trigent

As you gear up to deliver unique shopping journeys, we can help you with our broad range of offerings to build a technology stack that’s replete with features and functionality. With an array of pre-built as well as custom solutions for diverse retail use cases, we empower you to offer personalization and delightful digital experiences at scale.

We’d be happy to be your trusted technology partner on your digital transformation journey.

Call us today to book a business consultation.

References

1. https://www.statista.com/topics/6239/coronavirus-impact-on-the-retail-industry-worldwide/
2. https://fortune.com/2021/01/07/record-store-closings-bankruptcy-2020/
3. https://www.barrons.com/news/walmart-profits-jump-80-to-6-5-bn-on-strong-e-commerce-sales-01597749906
4. https://research.aimultiple.com/chatbot-stats/

How universities are using AI to power operational efficiency

The role of technology in the education industry has witnessed some monumental trendsetters, right from 2019, which saw the advent of Big Data, Internet of Things (IoT), and Machine Learning. Artificial Intelligence (AI) has also been a significant contributor, revolutionizing education. Keeping up with the changing times, universities have started embracing AI. A Market Search Engine report has predicted that AI will become the primary trend and grow more than 45% by 2024. The pandemic has also proven to be a catalyst for positive change, accelerating universities’ education technology needs.

Artificial intelligence has been in use for quite some time now. Several industries have already leveraged this new-age technology and seen substantial improvements in their processes. The education sector is the latest to join the AI bandwagon. Colleges and universities globally have introduced AI in their instructional and institutional operations. Managing the entire operations—right from student screening to placements—has been an arduous task, but not anymore.

Leveraging the power of AI

AI’s influence across universities

Recent advancements in AI have made the academic world more convenient and personalized. It has not just made education accessible to students but helped universities automate and speed up tedious administrative tasks.

  1. Admissions and student screening: Leveraging cognitive technologies in the admission process helps universities predict the applicants most likely to be accepted and enrolled, their states and countries, courses they choose, and if they’ll become engaged alumni. AI speeds up the admission and administrative processes, including admissions decisions, visa processing in case of an international student, student housing selection, and course registration.

    Taylor University in Upland, Indiana, deployed algorithms to maximize their student recruitment with a competitive skill set.

  2. Round-the-clock query resolution: Educational institutes use chatbots to perform multiple functions, including conversations with students, answering queries besides assessing and correcting assignments. Chatbots also store, process, and communicate data.

    Georgia State University installed ‘Pounce’ to address issues/obstacles faced by students, including enrollment, class registration, placement exams, and financial aid applications. Students connect to the bot through smart-text messaging and resolve their queries 24/7.

  3. Video-assisted remote learning: Overnight, distant learning has become the top trend due to the pandemic, giving rise to online education to help students effectively learn without disruptions. Though AI can never replace a human, video calls for better teacher-student engagement, irrespective of their location. By using AI-enabled Learning Management System (LMS), teachers can monitor student progress. Students are classified based on their learning ability and content designed to suit each learning style. Reading assignments and long lectures can be broken into smaller segments, helping students understand them better. Machine learning, along with text summarization, can transcribe complete lectures. Students can also connect with their peers, exchange notes, and clear doubts, real-time, while teachers can pay attention to students who require personalized coaching.

    Ivy Tech, a community college, having campuses across Indiana, leveraged AI to enable its student base to perform better. An algorithm was developed to monitor students’ online behavior patterns and identify students at risk of failing. Around 3,000 students were assisted, thereby improving their chances of getting better grades.

  4. Immersive content with AR/VR: Virtual experiential learning has pushed the boundaries of traditional education. Immersive technologies like Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) provide a digitally constructed environment to enhance the learning experience. Students can perform science experiments, surgeries, or even explore the universe, along with their peers.

    Arizona State University introduced virtual reality (VR) labs for its biology students. They draw blood, analyze samples, manipulate DNA, and perform experiments, all without leaving their study spaces.

  5. Monitoring students’ performance: Machine learning tracks students’ progress and needs individually and provides insights for enhanced outcomes. Teachers can use these insights to better cater to each student’s academic and personal growth.

    Kent State University in Ohio has integrated AI in its developmental math program. With ALEKS (Assessment and Learning in Knowledge Spaces), students take online classes in a monitored classroom, often assisted by a graduate assistant, faculty member, or peer tutor. Based on the student’s understanding, the difficulty of math problems is adjusted.

  6. Placement assistance: AI-powered platforms and digital analytics can help universities to manage placement and alumni efficiently. Conversational AI, powered by human expertise, is integrated to plan on-campus push, campus recruitments, assist students in cracking placement exams, and monitoring their progress.

  7. Automating administrative processes: Administrative tasks, though time-consuming, are a necessary function. Administrators are often overwhelmed with repetitive work such as new student admissions, managing class schedules, student attendance, processing grades, and monitoring placements. Automation is a crucial way to reduce their burden substantially and keep the processes running smoothly. The staff can eliminate manual routines and instead focus on more creative and inventive roles.

    New York University has deployed BobCat, an AI program that maintains the institution’s library. It plays a librarian’s role, helping students and teachers search, scan, and get library resources such as books/ebooks, sound recordings, videos, e-journals, etc. It also keeps track of the repository, maintains check-out and records for all returns.

AI has enhanced the way teachers run their classrooms. It has also helped administrators expedite their tasks. It replaces the traditional pen-and-paper method with innovative teaching methods, collaborative task management, and seamless operations. Recognizing the potential AI brings to the table, universities, in collaboration with IT companies, are deploying intelligent algorithms. These timely interventions are helping universities address challenges and drive efficiency across functions.

Conclusion

Artificial intelligence is undeniably transforming the education sector worldwide, and the potential for progress is tremendous. With artificial intelligence surpassing human abilities and making a difference in the way universities function in more profound ways, it is the right time to jump on the bandwagon. And for that, you need an expert partner.

At Trigent, we provide AI solutions that are easy to use and intuitive, ensuring seamless adoption of this latest technology. With Trigent’s AI-powered tools, you can accelerate your digital transformation initiative in this new normal successfully.

Reach out to us for a business consultation. We’d be happy to partner with you on your AI adoption journey.

Rich-Immersive Experiences Driven by AR/VR

2020 has taught us a lot, and among the lessons learned the biggest was the one on social cohesion. It taught us how important it was to restore the in-person sentiment albeit digitally to keep the customer experience delightfully engaging even in these trying times. Brands like Whole Foods for instance, recently went digital to empower customers with that familiar in-store feel. 

Retailers are now adopting advanced tools and technologies with AR/VR (augmented reality) and (virtual reality) at the helm to offer rich, immersive experiences to their customers.

The ground reality

There are countless examples of AR/VR changing customer experiences dramatically for the better. While AR digitally displays information to make sense of the real world, VR helps us understand and experience environments that could otherwise be costly or risky to experience physically. As per the ‘Seeing is believing’ report by PwC, virtual and augmented reality will reach $1.5 trillion and 23 million people globally by 2030 taking the number of people working with AR/VR support to 23.4 million.

AR and VR are adding immense value to the retail sector making way for more immersive storytelling. Jeremy Dalton Head of PwC’s AR/VR team in his book, Reality Check: How Immersive Technologies can Transform your Business says, “AR sacrifices full immersion for a direct connection to the physical world.” It can be helpful in revealing hidden information such as the components that go inside a product. “VR offers the best of all worlds: the ability to create a believable, engaging, and easily repeatable scenario but without the associated cost, disruption, or danger of the real thing,” he adds further.  

The product launch of OnePlus Nord in July 2020 was the first product launch in the world that used the power of AR, and the live cross-continent VR product launch of Jaguar’s all-electric I-PACE wowed one and all. Brands are now looking for more creative ways to integrate AR/VR into their marketing mix. Nike Japan too recently took the imagination of fans to the next level with Create with Air Max – an AR-powered coloring book that allows them to decorate black and white drawings of the shoes and watch their 3-D images float in real-time. 

The retail landscape

A rich, immersive shopping experience is now becoming a retail industry standard. Retailers can absolutely shake up customer experience through AR/VR by personalizing offers and empowering customers to visualize their favorite products in virtual settings. Says Sylvain Fabre, senior research director at Gartner, “Gartner expects that the implementation of 5G and AR/VR in stores will transform not only customer engagement but also the entire product management cycle of brands. 5G can optimize warehouse resources, enhance store traffic analytics and enable beacons that communicate with shoppers’ smartphones.” 

As per the global forecast to 2025 by ResearchAndMarkets.com, the VR market is predicted to grow from USD 6.1 billion in 2020 to USD 20.9 billion by 2025 at a CAGR of 27.9% while the AR market is projected to grow from USD 15.3 billion in 2020 to USD 77.0 billion by 2025 at a CAGR of 38.1% from 2020 to 2025. Research by Vibrant Media had revealed earlier that 67% of media buyers are keen on using AR/VR in their campaigns while GetApp indicated that 1 in 2 consumers in the UK are willing to use AR technology for shopping. With Apple rumored to be working on the next big thing – a VR headset and AR glasses – AR and VR clearly seem to be on everyone’s mind as they build digital transformation roadmaps. 

AR and VR together are contributing towards rich, immersive, unforgettable customer experiences. They empower retailers to offer:

Virtual try-ons – Prominent fashion labels Gucci and Hilfiger embedded AR into their apps to offer customers greater clarity while shopping by allowing them to digitally superimpose clothes and accessories onto themselves using their smartphone camera. The ability to scale products on their bodies or in their homes gives them better judgment and helps make informed buying decisions. IKEA Place app, for instance, allows customers to virtually place their true-to-scale 3D models in their space to give them the exact feeling of size, design, and functionality. In a crowded retail marketplace, this ‘try-before-you-buy’ experience could be the game-changer you may be looking for. 

In-store experience – It’s something customers are unable to enjoy in current times and a little attention can go a long way. It is the key to forging deeper connections. Retailers need to include AR/VR displays, kiosks, magic mirrors, smart carts, virtual store assistants, and digital fitting rooms depending on the products they sell to make the shopping experience efficient, enjoyable, but contactless. Remember how Levi’s came up with the co-watching video app allowing friends to share screen and shop together? This makes the whole experience not just engaging, but very emotional and intimate. 

Personalization – AR/VR allows unprecedented personalization. By employing marketing strategies that work well for mobile, desktop as well as web platforms, retailers can now offer 3D graphics-rich content for better customer engagement. Retailers can now offer more personalized products, and catalogs with detailed views keeping the individual preferences of customers in mind. Personalization also increases the likelihood of the customer returning to the same retailer for more and the possibility of product returns is also less.

Social media marketing – Social media filters are being used frequently now and Facebook investing heavily in AR/VR is proof that immersive experiences are now part of social media engagement. When used correctly on social media, AR/VR can help create new trends, increase impulse buys, and improve brand engagement. 

Customer engagement – VR has been helping brands offer simulated experiences to customers through different initiatives such as the one by Volvo where they offered a virtual test drive to customers. This initiative provides the brand a fresh engagement touchpoint to connect without having to wait for them to come down for a visit. This kind of positive engagement is just what is needed as we embrace the New Normal.

Productivity – A study published in The International Journal of Advanced Manufacturing Technology stated that warehouse pickers could complete orders 37% faster using an AR tool. DHL now has expanded its AR-based ‘vision picking’ program to its warehouses across the globe and those who are already part of the program are seeing 15% greater productivity. Time and cost savings in warehouse operations would mean faster fulfillment of orders, fewer complaints, and lower operational costs.

Create a magical customer experience with Trigent

AR and VR have demonstrated a clear return on investment while offering retailers the means and ways to connect and converse with their customers. At Trigent, we help you create immersive experiences that are intuitive and data-rich while putting your customer needs at the core of every initiative. It’s time you embraced the many possibilities AR and VR have to offer to unlock moments of delight for your customers. Allow us to help you push the standards a little higher.

Call us today for a consultation.