Entering into 2019, and looking back at the last decade, there have been a number of major digitally focused innovations across the retail landscape that have positively impacted the shopping experience.
But which were the most significant?
Hindsight is a wonderful thing. We can now look back on the key digital advancements in retail that have had impact within the 2010s and review the rate and extent of impact that they had.
For the list below, although the focus is primarily on the US, it’s important to remember that differences in international culture, as well as urban vs. rural differences have a significant impact upon adoption & engagement to new technologies.
For example, on the cultural front, certain markets are more accepting and trusting of deeper degrees of personal engagement with digital technology than others. To this end, Sweden has recently seen the introduction of digital ID chips implanted under the skin).
On the Urban vs. Rural front, differences in geography impact rate of modification of changes in in consumer behavior, plus, the perception of value that certain developments bring. For example, urban areas with mass transit systems typically are more accepting of touch & tap digital payment technologies, as this behavior mirrors the interaction that is undertaken daily to pay for transit/metro system entry and exit.
London has operated RFID powered ‘Oyster cards’ for the London Underground rail service for many years, and by 2012, 43 million cards had been issued with 80% of London mass transit operated using Oyster Cards.
This has proliferated into more widespread adoption of tap to pay using chip enabled credit cards in and around London than areas outside of the city.
The Top 10 Digital Retail Innovations in the 2010s
#1 : Realtime Cross-Channel Inventory Tracking
Realtime inventory tracking and visibility has enabled many other programs (Pick Up At Store, Website Retail Inventory display) to be enacted in the 2010s. Visibility to in-store inventory in real-time or near-real time is a pre-requisite to bringing a number of the other innovations listed in this article to the forefront.
#2 : Retail Mobile Apps
Before 2010, there were very few (if any) retailer Apps available for widespread consumer use. Those that existed were in their infancy, and the critical role in driving loyalty in the value chain was not yet realized.
#3 : The Smart P.O.S
Evolution of the Point of Sale from a conventional register to a digitally enabled tool has been a key development for driving marketing program engagement, capturing customer data, and facilitating critical communications to field staff to be rapidly managed and deployed.
#4 : Multi-Source Logistic (Delivery) Options
The rise of third party options for introducing delivery options to retail shopping (services such as Instacart) have enabled operations for entrenched bricks & mortar operations (especially grocery stores) to be expanded beyond the walls of their building.
#5 : The Connected Associate
A great example of the “connected associate” in actions is at Neiman Marcus, where all associates carry a mobile device that is capable of checking out the customer at any point within the store, and complete transactions (print receipts, bag items, at hub locations within each store) . This enables savvy customers to skip the lines at the front of the store, and eases congestion at busy times
#6 : Call Ahead / Order Ahead / Pick Up in Store Services
In the US, there has been a slow but growing adoption for order-ahead options and pick-up at store. This may have been stifled by availability of services such as amazon prime including free, rapid shipping and the convenience offered, but retailers have been fighting back. The movement of Walmart’s pick up at store offering from the back of the store, to the front, and now, to curbside, shows the increasing importance of this channel to certain retail sectors (consumables and big box are more susceptible to this than other retailers (ex: apparel).
#7 : Digitally Enabled Store Services
Enabling services through technology assists both larger square footage retail environments as well as well as smaller square footage “front of house/back of house’ inventory, stores. In a larger square footage environment, being able to locate the aisle and bay within a store of an item in question is emerging in importance as a key digital enabler, while in smaller. ‘showrooming’ retailers (such as shoe stores), being able to digitally check back room inventory while stood with the customer can drastically reduce wasted time manually checking for stock, and expedite the process for locating sizes in stock.
#8 : Digital Loyalty Currency & In-Store Interactions
In some markets, NFC has been commonplace for some time, but in other markets (especially the US), NFC has been slower to be rolled out. Starbucks created QR Code enabled digital payments tied to loyalty back in 2011, and hasn’t looked back since. The integration of the Mobile App to the purchase process both linked customer loyalty (and data) to the purchase process, but also raised the value of Starbucks gift cards by enabling them to be ‘digitally loaded’ onto a user’s account. This doesn’t sit higher on the list as adoption & engagement of this model been slower for competitors and contemporaries, but it earns a place as a key milestone in digital enablement.
#9 : In-Store Digital Service Kiosks
Digital Kiosks have seen specialty adoption work well, facilitating shopping decisions in areas where digitally enhanced solution expertise can assist the customer in unique ways. For example, Sephora’s Color IQ Kiosk solution matches skintone to the ideal make-up colors, driving purchases and brand loyalty.
#10 : Evolution of Payment Solutions
The introduction of Apple & Google Wallet solutions has seen widespread adoption by retailers, but limited adoption by customers. 2018 stats show that only 1% of Store Transactions are completed with Google Wallet , while Apple Pay sits at 3% of Store Transactions. However, the introduction of competitors to the incumbents in the Pin-pad space (ex: Square), have helped to push innovation in this space. Enhancements such as emailed receipts and journey flow in pin-pads have seen major steps in the 2010s.
Honorable Technology Mentions:
A few additional technologies have emerged in the 2010s that are worthy of mention, but have not yet gained widespread adoption or engagement enough to qualify into our Top 10. The honorable mentions below are worth considering, as their prospective importance will shift as consumer behaviors evolve, and as wider supporting infrastructures are put in place that support their deployment.
Apple’s iBeacons and other NFC based locational technologies have seen limited adoption and implementation in the retail space to date. There are a few issues impacting this area. Firstly, the barrier to entry can be too high, with retail App installation required, and location services enabled. For passive solutions (i.e. Beacon senses your proximity and interacts by push message), there is also an invasive aspect that consumers generally have not yet been ready to see.
Digital Signage Implementations
Whole Foods is a good example of digital signage throughout stores, with digital on-shelf pricing that can be changed instantly as store prices are updated. The value this adds to consumers is questionable, but there is a strong efficiency play on the businesses’ side to reduce requirement for re-relabeling in store.
Customer originated scanning solutions, in which a customer collects a scanning device when entering store, scans items during shopping, and then validates checkout when leaving (skipping the traditional checkout), is an innovation that has gained traction in certain markets in Europe. UK grocers have been testing this technology and approach. This represents a significant change in consumer behavior, but also can create a much more streamlined shopping experience, so the future will show regarding adoption of this technology.
The impact of the technologies above varies depending on the customers’ needs in each retail environment, but each of the advancements above had improved the ability of the retailer to respond to developing consumer needs and to maintain a competitive position against rising digital pure-play challengers, and protect their incumbency in their core space. Behind each of these technology implementations is a great deal of back end infrastructure investment and development.
Reviewing the position in the technology landscape of a retailer helps to provide insight to their view towards technology evolution, its role in the customer experience, and the perceived value add of such investments. Due to the omni-channel demands of consumers today, the lines between traditional operations & logistics, IT, marketing and store operations are blurring rapidly and significantly. Strong oversight and vision towards customer needs should drive innovation strategy, as well as the inherent knowledge of the capabilities of the retailer and ability to pivot where necessary to stay competitive.