The retail industry is a dynamic and fast paced environment, with today’s trends quickly becoming obsolete with the arrival of tomorrow’s next big thing. If you take a step back and look at the bigger picture of the sector in general, you’ll also notice some fundamental changes to how the industry works.
Technology has already had a big impact on the retail environment, with the emergence of e-commerce introducing a whole new aspect to the world of retail.
As well as the disruption that the Internet has caused, there have also been some more subtle changes that perhaps may not have single-handedly transformed the industry, but have improved efficiency, streamlined processes and modernised the fashion and retail sectors.
The developments aren’t going to stop there and the tech revolution has just begun. We’re going to look at a few ways that technology has already impacted the industry and some changes we expect to see shape the environment as we know it.
Artificial Intelligence (AI)
You may not have even noticed, but you’ve probably already come across AI in action whilst shopping online or even through in-store experiences. The recommendations made when browsing or purchasing online, and even the virtual assistant who pops up to offer a helping hand are often powered by AI, and that’s just the start.
More and more businesses are starting to use AI and machine learning to study buying behaviour, predict future actions and offer a truly personalised and individual consumer experience based on more meaningful understanding.
Whilst online shopping has certainly been revolutionary, there are a few barriers that add an element of (albeit small and trivial) risk to this shopping experience. Take the beauty industry for example. Part of the experience of buying beauty products is often the specialist advice you receive in-store and the ability to try products before you make a decision. This luxury is taken away when you replace a department store and enthusiastic sales assistants with a laptop.
This is where leading cosmetics retailer, Sephora, may have answered our prayers. Introducing its Virtual Artist, who is here to help you find the perfect make up look. Powered by AI, the tool enables consumers to ‘try on’ products through the app or website. With just the point of a smartphone camera, AI can precisely map facial features and identify colours to offer recommendations, put together the perfect look, and the option to ‘try’ the products on your own selfie.
AI has already started to prove its worth in the retail sector and we’re excited to see what’s next.
There’s no denying that social media has been revolutionary in many ways, one of which being the evolution of social selling, blogging and influencers. The rise of the fashion blogger, and their perfectly coordinated Instagram account, has provided marketers with new opportunities and closer access to their audiences.
Many bloggers have earned the authority to recommend particular brands and styles, and marketers are able to trust in their ability to influence consumers; brands just need to get the right dress on the right blogger and they can feel pretty safe in the knowledge that that item will probably sell out. Think the Kate Middleton effect for an extreme example!
For a more literal example of technology in the fashion industry, think about how tech innovators have had a go in the fashion world. Over 900,000 Apple Watches were sold in the first 24 hours1 with people wanting to have the latest wrist candy that not only looks stylish but also sends and receives messages, and tracks their daily physical activity. And let’s not forget the time when Diane von Furstenberg featured Google’s Glass in her show at New York Fashion Week in 2012.
It’s thought that a next major step in tech meets fashion will be the growing emergence of smart fabrics or ‘electronic textiles’, which involve materials embedded with digital components to give you colour changing clothes or even energy producing garments.
The US Olympic and Paralympic Teams will have technology to thank when they’re nice and warm during the opening and closing ceremonies at this year’s Winter Olympics in PyeongChang. Once again, Ralph Lauren has designed the patriotic uniforms, this year with the addition of a battery powered streamlined heating component in the all-American parkas and bomber jackets.
So, we’ve already seen the drastic impact that technology has had on the world of retail, and we are sure that we’re set to see more in the not so distant future.