One of the most pervasive commerce trends is the reinvention of the shopper journey. Purchases in the past were more transactional in nature. Now, shopping is a journey, with more emphasis placed on relationship building, not just about buying. The ideal journey weaves a brand into the entire experience, providing value before, during and after the purchase, converting a transaction into a relationship.
Technology is woven into almost every step, with the smartphone keeping today’s shopper forever tethered to companies. Commerce is in the middle of a head-to-toe makeover thanks to the plethora of available technologies. Following Money20/20 USA, below are three tech-driven trends will have the most impact on reshaping commerce in the year ahead.
Repositioning artificial intelligence
Artificial intelligence (AI), which refers to technologies capable of performing tasks normally requiring human intelligence, goes back centuries. Now, three powerful drivers – exponential data growth, more sophisticated distributed networks and smarter algorithms – have propelled artificial intelligence front and center for end-user applications, making it one of the most popular technologies today.
Artificial intelligence is expected to be the most impactful technological advancement for businesses in the next five years. Nearly 59% of 602 industry professionals surveyed by Euromonitor International in September 2018 ranked AI ahead of other buzzworthy technologies. AI moved ahead of the Internet of Things, which respondents in a February survey ranked as being the most impactful technology in the next five years.
At this year’s Money20/20 USA, industry leaders, though, appeared to be repositioning the role of artificial intelligence. Instead of replacing workers, for example, this technology was positioned as instead augmenting their human knowledge. In a real-life example, online subscription and personal shopping service Stitch Fix leverages artificial intelligence to create outfit recommendations, but a personal stylist signs off on the final selections sent to its consumers. In this sense, AI is augmented with human intelligence.
Voice as the go-to interface
In 2000, Bill Gates predicted that most of the interfacing with computers would eventually be via voice. Voice-powered applications is expected to be one of the areas most impacted by the rise of artificial intelligence, according to the September survey Euromonitor conducted of industry professionals.
Chatbots and smart speakers have exploded on the scene, but their impact on the bottom line has been underwhelming. While voice-enabled robots such as Alexa and Google Home continue to populate more homes, their ability to generate sales for consumer services is still negligible at best. Even so, voice continues to be lauded as the next big thing in commerce.
“We are at the point of a big transformation,” Patrick Gauthier, vice president of Amazon Pay said during his keynote. “With voice we are going to see different complementary experiences emerge.”
In terms of commerce applications, Gauthier expects voice to play a bigger role when it comes to supplementing shopping information or executing recurring purchases. He added that consumers must learn what to expect from this type of interface, but he ultimately expects consumers to use Alexa differently in a kitchen as opposed to a living room.
“Think about all the devices that we interact with that are becoming connected,” he explained. “Think about how transformative it would be to layer voice over.”
Future of the store
Although physical outlets will continue to play a role in how consumers browse and buy goods, retail stores will have to evolve to better serve a more informed, impatient and internet-connected shopper. More experiences will be built around purchases, such as furniture or consumer electronics, that require more consideration. In addition, greater automation will come in store to ease the browsing and buying process with unmanned checkouts capturing some of the most consistent headlines.
Since unmanned checkouts like Tao Café from Alibaba first made news in 2017, retailers have been knocking on the doors of technology firms wanting to replicate. The rise of more affordable item-level tagging, computer vision and advanced machine learning have made this possible. In its simplest form, consumers use a smartphone to scan for entry. Sensor technology then tracks the consumer in store and adds items they have removed from the shelf to a virtual shopping cart. JD.com in China and Amazon in the US are working on similar initiatives.
In addition to the work from these major retailers, others across the ecosystem, including Grabango, are developing checkout-free products. CEO Will Glaser compared Grabango’s shopping experience to that of Amazon Go during his presentation at Money20/20 USA. However, he explained that Amazon Go is focused on newly constructed convenience stores whereas Grabango is focused on retrofitting grocery stores. Grabango’s system uses high-quality sensor hardware and high-precision computer algorithms to acquire the location of every item in the store, which he says is scalable to retail stores with thousands of unique SKUs.
“The revolution upon us is driven by computer vision and machine learning,” Glaser said. “They will forever change how people interact with products. They will change how we shop.”