Holiday shopping goes high-tech: 3 trends retailers have adopted

Expect to see retailers using augmented reality, chatbots and beacons to help boost sales online and offline

Holiday shopping goes high-tech: 3 trends retailers have adopted

Wayfair's augmented reality app, Wayfair View, lets shoppers check the scale of products before they make a purchase

Credit: Augment

With the holiday shopping season upon us, retailers are feeling the pressure to make big numbers during their busiest time of the year. Retailers generate 25 percent of their annual sales during this lucrative period according to the National Retail Federation (NRF).

There are more challenges for retailers than ever before. Brick and mortar stores are struggling with fierce online competition. Department stores such as Target, Walmart and BestBuy posted year-over-year declines of 7.3 percent. Further, mobile commerce is on the rise. Mobile shoppers now make up 61 percent of total ecommerce traffic, according to Unbxd.

All of that means retailers must have a complete omni-channel strategy to remain competitive.

So, what new technology can you expect to see retailers using this holiday season to boost their sales, online and offline?

Augmented reality

Although online shopping is supposed to be easy for consumers, it often is a long and tedious process filled with doubts and guesswork. 

For retailers, this guesswork is a major problem. According to the NRF, American consumers returned more than $360 billion in merchandise last year. And for 22 percent of those consumers, they do so because the products look different from the photos online. 

Augmented reality (AR) is helping retailers combat this challenge. With AR, consumers can view 3D product models at home in real size before buying using their smartphone or tablet. The real-time rendering removes the guesswork for the consumer, facilitating the path to purchase.  

Top retailers have already started offering AR solutions to their customers this holiday season. In early November, Wayfair launched its AR application, WayfairView, which is available on Lenovo’s Phab 2 Pro. The Phab 2 is Tango-enabled, meaning the device has depth sensing and rooming mapping built in. This technology is powering new AR experience for consumers.

“WayfairView allows shoppers to check the scale of products before they purchase to facilitate home-improvement planning, from furniture pieces and décor to ceiling lamps and chandeliers," said Mike Festa, head of Wayfair’s R&D lab Wayfair Next.

Lowes and Ikea are also among the retail giants that have launched augmented reality shopping apps.

Chatbots 

Chatbots garnered a lot of attention in 2016, and retailers are making use of this smart technology to engage shoppers and to boost online sales.

Consumers now spend more time on messaging platforms than social media apps. Chatbots allow retailers to reach and engage consumers within those messaging platforms. Chatbots deliver automated content such as customer support and ecommerce solutions in real time. Even more, chatbots are now functioning with machine learning, allowing them to understand information and respond intelligently.

Major brands are leveraging chatbots, including Sephora, Tesco, Mattel, H&M and Toys R Us. In early 2016, Sephora launched a chatbot on Kik, a mobile messaging app. The chatbot offers personalized beauty tips and product recommendations based on the user’s tastes and preferences.

One of the biggest messaging platforms is Facebook Messenger, which boasts 1 billion global monthly active users. Facebook introduced chatbots earlier in 2016, and retailers are taking advantage. In October, just ahead of the holiday shopping season, eBay announced it was testing a chatbot shopping assistant on Facebook Messenger.

Chatbots add another layer of engagement and personalization to the shopping experience, helping brands drive conversions. 

Beacons 

Brick and mortar is on the decline, while mobile shopping is on the rise. The challenge for retailers is connecting their offline and online channels. Beacons are helping brick and mortar stores do just that. 

ABI Research predicts 400 million beacons will be deployed by 2020. Beacons allow retailers to push notifications to users while they are in stores when they are within a certain proximity to the device. These notifications are highly targeted and relevant for the user. With the right message, proximity marketing facilitates the in-store shopping experience. 

From Macy’s to Target to McDonald’s, widespread beacon deployment is more than underway. One of the largest beacon rollouts this year was by Rite Aid. Rite Aid installed over 4,500 beacons in their stores across the United States. The beacons push notifications and promotions to customers, but they also allow the retailer to collect valuable data about in-store shopping patterns. That data can be leveraged to better optimize the in-store shopping experience.

With so many retailers deploying this technology, it’s more likely than not you’ll enter a store that uses beacons this holiday season.

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