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Top tech trends to follow – and which to leave behind

Consumers today expect more from their shopping experience than ever before. For them, purchasing online or offline needs to be seamless, convenient and personalised. And every time they experience something new they like, their expectations are raised.

With rising expectations comes the need to make considerable tech investments. But how do you know which technologies deserve your valuable dollars, and which should be tabled for a later date?

At IRCE, Brendan Witcher, principal analyst at Forrester, shared the results of his annual survey and discussed the top tech investments for retailers in 2017. He asked industry professionals which technologies matter, which ones they plan to invest in and which ones they plan to implement.

Make it personal

Number one: Personalisation. This isn’t the first time you’ve heard about personalisation – it’s a topic that’s hot right now and has been for several years, as the practise has become increasingly utilised across several industries, including retail. According to Witcher, 89 per cent of industry professionals say they are going to invest in personalisation this year.

Ninety percent of professionals in the retail industry are making personalisation a top priority. Why? Because 77 per cent of consumers have chosen, recommended or paid more for a brand that provides a personalised service or experience.

That number is huge – and those consumers can’t be ignored.

And consumers are expecting greater personalisation beyond the online space. Witcher’s survey found that this is the first year where in-store personalisation has become a top priority. In fact, it was this focus on in-store personalisation that pushed it to the number one spot on his list.

As more and more consumers shop online and are exposed to deeper, richer personalisation, the more they will come to expect it everywhere else. Whether you’re multichannel or online, the need for personalisation is real – and the desire will only continue to grow.

Make it omnichannel

The lines between online and offline shopping are beginning to blur. The multichannel experience is slowly giving way to the omnichannel experience, and as such, omnichannel investment is number two on Witcher’s list.

Companies are becoming interested in providing better tools for the in-store experience. They’re focusing on engagement and a holistic view of the customer. According to Witcher, only about 10 per cent of retailers are focusing on omnichannel heavily right now, which might seem small – but it’s growing. The retailers who are focusing on omnichannel right now are the ones with the greatest number of customers – those who are now becoming accustomed to buying online and shipping to store or vice versa. They’re responding to their customer’s expectations – and it’s paying off.

By creating the new norm, these retailers are setting new standards for what customers expect. This has a ripple effect: The retailers are beginning to dictate the shopping experience for everyone else. As Witcher explained during his IRCE presentation, “Every time a customer is exposed to an improved shopping experience, their shopping expectations are reset to a new higher level.” Even now, there are shoppers today that have never known a world where shopping online wasn’t an option.

Witcher predicts the focus on omnichannel and subsequent investment in omnichannel will increase to about four times its current size within the next 12 months.

Analyse It

Despite being a common technology for some time now, analytics still placed third in Witcher’s list of top tech investments, proving once more how important data is to businesses big and small.

But Witcher explained how real-time analytics are actually what companies are after – those that help businesses operate in real time. He gave an example of a visual merchandiser wanting to move products from one position to another: Rather than moving the merchandise and waiting weeks for a report to analyse the impact, companies want to know beforehand what the impact will be.

Smart companies don’t want to guess at what will bring them success – they’re investing in predictive analytics that will help them make important business decisions and predict the best outcome based on their goal, be it an increase in topline revenue, customer retention or engagement.

Keep It On Simmer

Not every piece of technology caught the attention of marketing professionals: While the three above are seeing greater adoption and investment, Witcher’s survey found that the following technologies are simmering rather than sizzling this year.

Digital Store Investments: Not a lot going on here, according to Witcher’s survey. While the digital storefront is picking up, it’s slow-moving at the moment. From robotics to RFID, most of the investments here are in their very early stages, but we’re getting there.

Mobile: This one might be a surprise, but when you dig a little deeper it’s not surprising to see why investment in mobile is down. Companies have been investing in mobile technologies for years, so we’re beginning to see that investment die down. However, as Witcher points out, just because investment is down does not mean spending is down. We’re now seeing a shift in resources (dollars) from technology to actual resources and labor.

Chatbots: Part of the wave of “new tech” chatbots are still very much in their infancy, at least in terms of investment – and that investment will continue to grow. It’s not hard to see why. According to Witcher, 52 per cent of online shoppers are very likely to abandon an online purchase if they cannot find a quick answer to their questions. Marketing professionals are not willing to place their trust in chatbots just yet, especially when sales are at stake; however, chatbot technology is gaining traction.

Artificial Intelligence: While there’s no doubt AI will play an important role in the future, for now, investment from marketing professionals is low. Most companies are watching this one closely while the market figures out if the investment is worth the reward.

Keep It On the Back Burner – For Now

Rounding out Witcher’s survey are a list of technologies currently stagnating or seeing very little in terms of investment. They include the Internet of Things (IOT), self-checkout, social selling and AR/VR. But while these technologies aren’t commanding budget dollars now, that doesn’t mean they won’t be important in the future.

Just look at AR/VR. We’re only now starting to understand its potential use cases, especially as it relates to creating better, more personalised shopping experiences. We’ll see more coming from that space as the technology becomes more mainstream.

Stay Human

Technology will continue to play an integral role in reshaping how marketing professionals connect with consumers and how retailers achieve their goals, but it’s important to remember that being a good marketer and connecting with customers in the digital age also requires being more human than ever. The most successful marketers will be those who use technology to address and solve customer pain points in a meaningful way – not those who add new innovations or throw around development dollars just because they can.

Shannon Ingrey brings more than 15 years of experience in retail marketing, sales and management to his role as general manager of Oracle + Bronto APAC, a cloud-based commerce marketing automation platform with offices in New York, Los Angeles, Sydney, Singapore, Toronto and London.

Specialising in international retail, marketing and operations, Ingrey has been a driving force in growing leading brands in Asia Pacific and Europe as a retailer and more recently growing international markets as a SaaS martech provider.

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