The growing reliance on technology became much more apparent during the COVID-19 pandemic. As retailers and consumer brands sought to stay connected with consumers who were seeking to reduce time in stores due to safety concerns, they turned to online channels and virtual engagements. Retailers also ramped up in-store tech investment to create touchless experiences.
The intensity of this crisis inspired a greater adoption of technology. Almost three-quarters of industry respondents said the crisis accelerated some, if not all, of their tech-related investment, according to the Voice of the Industry: Digital Survey. Almost half of those working for retailers or consumer brands said they were expanding the use of mobile apps, tailored marketing and personalised recommendations, enhanced website search and the development or improvement of their omnichannel presence.
This investment is likely to continue in the years to come as retailers and consumer brands seek to stay relevant in this fast-changing digital era. Leveraging Euromonitor International’s survey of industry professionals who work for retailers or consumer brand manufacturers, the following chart provides guidance in terms of where the industry is investing now (short term) or planning to do so in a year (midterm) or five years from now (long term).
For example, there has been considerable activity using cloud and AI to improve the commerce experience. Cloud computing is being deployed most frequently by the retail industry to improve website performance, improve flexibility in workloads and better manage supply chains. AI is being leveraged to enhance website search and improve customer engagement. These two technologies, as well as IoT, will continue to receive significant investment in the year ahead as companies leverage them to fine-tune the consumer experience.
Technologies like AR/VR, blockchain and 5G networks are not expected to gain importance for at least five years. Looking five years out, this is when retail professionals begin to point to the impact of these technologies on voice-powered applications, fulfilment and logistics, virtual try-ons and supply chain traceability as gaining more importance.
Technologies will undoubtedly impact the future of commerce; however, investing in any new technology will require a cost-benefit analysis. The top reason that retail professionals give for not investing in a particular technology is that there is no clear use for their business. These individual factors must be taken into consideration. Broadly speaking, though, technology will continue to massively impact the continued development of the retail sector, given its power to improve efficiencies and the consumer experience itself.
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