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Is tech enough to improve the customer experience?

You could argue that customer experience in the online landscape has not fundamentally changed in recent years, despite the rise of new and recycled offerings, such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, augmented reality, virtual reality and a whole lot of other ‘virtual’ buzzwords.

But is this what customers want? And if so, how are these tools improving the overall experience?

Retailers need to strip down these virtual technologies into the components that make an actual, positive difference to their customers and their experience.

By using technology to gain a better, more unified view of the customer, along with advanced customer behaviour analysis, companies can vastly improve the overall experience for customers.

The buzzword technologies themselves are not the differentiators. It’s the application and combination of these technologies that will drive the next major changes in our in-store and online experiences.

Step 1: Convergence

What used to be called omnichannel is changing, as it becomes relevant in real-world scenarios and refined in practise.

Transactional channels (in-store and online) are becoming unified, providing a single view of customers, full-breadth of product range and improvements around returns, extended ranges, aisle functions and click-and-collect capabilities.

As things continue to progress, there will be an emergence of ‘commerce systems’ to replace the current separate POS and e-commerce systems. Once these channels are unified, the buying history of online customers will be available for analysis, again influencing the future experience that shoppers will have.

Step 2: Artificial intelligence, pattern recognition and machine learning

Going a step further, there will finally be some progress in the use of AI, which has been promoted as the next big thing for decades.

In addition to the more traditional applications of AI, such as trend identification, insight generation and reporting, more exciting applications are becoming possible, including facial recognition, visual search and customer behaviour analysis.

Applied to retail, these features create opportunities to improve the customer experience. Visual search, for instance, makes it easier for customers to find what they are looking for, since they no longer need to try to describe it, or understand how a retailer might have tagged a product.

Retailers like The Iconic and Asos have already embraced visual search. They allow customers to upload an image of something they want to purchase and display products that look similar to that image, irrespective of any text descriptions or classifications in their back end systems.

As the retail market continues to be influenced by technological advancements, the overall customer experience will continue to be improved both online and in-store.

Matt Neale is chief technology officer at eStar.

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