Three Retail Tech Trends to Watch in 2021 (and Beyond)

Christine Antonelli
Dec 4, 2020 9:00:00 AM

The global COVID-19 pandemic has, without a doubt, fundamentally changed life as we know it in the United States. Over the past year, we've seen ever-evolving restrictions and public sentiments that have altered much of the population's behavior. These changed behaviors have, in turn, accelerated the pace of change for retailers across the spectrum.

Whether it's a matter of necessity or a case of "not letting a good crisis go to waste," the result is the same. The pandemic has provided retailers with a forcing function to drive and optimize digital transformation efforts.

Here are the top three trends retailers should be on the lookout for in 2021 and beyond.

#1: Radical Personalization

The pandemic has necessitated a rapid shift to a self-driven, tech-enabled ordering, pickup and delivery experience for retailers. This shift has, in turn, opened up a treasure trove of consumer data for retailers to mine. The result has been an increased focus on personalized recommendations and experiences.

Until 2020, physical retailers have largely resisted offering online-level personalization in stores. However, as a result of COVID-19, 88 percent of organizations have added or scaled up artificial intelligence (A.I.) technologies. For example, beauty brand SKII launched touchless "Magic Scan" mirrors to give AI-enabled skincare analysis and product recommendations.

#2: Enhanced Customer Experience

With increased customization comes the potential for enhanced customer experiences. In an ever-tightening market, retailers will increasingly rely on next-level customer experiences to maintain relevance.

In the context of digital transformation, this means an increased reliance on online advertising and custom-branded apps to smooth out the rough edges of the customer experience and maintain a link long after the patron has left the retail location.

According to Fujitsu, 79% of retailers are planning on leveraging social media to maintain and enhance the customer experience, while 68% plan on using customized smartphone apps.

#3. Use of A.I. & Analytics to Gain Competitive Advantages

The current environment has forced retailers to optimize their operations across all primary channels, including sales, customer service, and frontline retail operations. More importantly, however, is the fact that many are now taking the next logical step in this evolution, namely embedding of Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) tools into everyday operations.

For example, reports that grocery retailers such as Bashas and Smart & Final have combined their robust customer behavior databases with cutting-edge A.I. analytics to accurately predict consumer demand and adjust their merchandising strategy in real-time.

This shift toward predictive, A.I.-driven operational insights represents the Holy Grail of retail analytics. At long last, business intelligence and operations have begun to converge and transform into a new, real-time decision-engine that puts customer desires and sentiments at the forefront. This shift will, undoubtedly, define the retail experience for the coming generation and beyond.

In closing

While the COVID-19 pandemic has been a significant challenge, it has also served as a forcing function for retailers. Long-stalled digital transformation efforts have suddenly been thrust into center stage, and initiatives that have been gestating for years have finally had the opportunity to come of age.

Retailers would be wise to remain mindful of these trends. As with many historical leaps forward, retailers who fail to adopt these trends may find themselves relegated to the dustbin of history.

About the Author - Chris Antonelli

Christine Antonelli_HSAs Solugenix VP of Customer Experience and Support Services, Chris Antonelli manages the delivery of customer support services and customer experience initiatives for clients in the retail and financial services industries. Chris leverages two decades of experience in leadership roles where she has guided best-in-class customer support service solutions to global brands like McDonald’s, BMW, Citibank, Sonic Drive-In, and Jiffy Lube. As an Executive Council member for Ellevate Network, Chris is dedicated to the professional development of women in the workforce and ardent supporter of remote workforce development.

Connect with Chris Antonelli on: LinkedIn

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