Top 5 retail technology trends to watch in 2018

Photo by Kai Oberhäuser on Unsplash

By Vaughan Rowsell, Founder and Chief Product Officer, Vend

We’ve seen a huge amount of upheaval in the UK retail space over the last year. And as retail evolves so does technology – to better help retailers compete, and grow with the modern shopper. We see big things also coming for 2018. Like robots, in-home services and QR codes (yes really). Here are five trends that I think will have the biggest impact on the retail industry in 2018:

1. Retailers will increasingly rely on robots (but not as you know them)

While we may not see many robots talking to shoppers on the shop floor, we do expect bots to play a bigger role in supporting retail operations. One example is fulfilment centres. Companies such as Amazon are investing in robots to help pack and ship items.

Many technology providers are already working on integrating artificial intelligence into their back-end systems, which will provide retailers with real-time tips and advice on how to run their business based on their current sales data.

We’ll also see more online, in the form of chatbots. According to Ubisend’s 2017 Chatbot Report which surveyed 2,000 consumers, the “majority of consumers are aware of what a chatbot is (57%) and over a third (35%) want to see more companies using chatbots to answer their questions.”

This global trend won’t slow down in 2018. With instant messaging apps such as Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp being a preferred method of contact for many people in the UK, we can expect more retailers to use these platforms to talk to customers and streamline communications. For instance, if a shopper wants to track their order, they can just “ask” the retailer on Messenger, and a chatbot can automatically retrieve the shipment information.

2. In-home services, delivery, and “chore” shopping will become easier

Consumers no longer want to leave the house to buy unexciting items (like toothpaste). So, what will retailers do to reach these customers? We anticipate many, particularly those selling commodities, will try to engage customers by connecting with them in their homes.

In 2018, the act of buying commodities (i.e. buying things because we have to) will become less of a chore. Players like Amazon and subscription businesses will make shopping for their items easier, through offerings like auto-renewals, one-tap purchases, and same-day delivery. In other words, the “chore” or routine component of shopping will become more streamlined.

Meanwhile, the experiential side of retail — the part that involves discovering great products and socialising with others — won’t go away. People will still make their way to physical stores because they want to enjoy experiences and find unique items that they won’t find anywhere else. UK retail is becoming more vibrant and diverse, with more independent stores and artisan products. There’s more carefully curated products to fall in love with and cherish. It has never been easier to run a retail store, and technology is driving this. 

3. Retailers that enable shoppers to build and customise products will prosper

Personalisation will still be a key retail trend in 2018 and beyond. We’re not just talking about putting someone’s name in an email subject line or letting customers put their initials on products. We’re referring to personalisation that enables shoppers to build products and customise them to the very last detail. Allowing shoppers to build and personalise products not only fulfills those standards, but it also make shopping a lot more exciting. What could be more interesting than building your very own purse or watch?

Eyewear retailer and eye healthcare provider, Dresden, is taking personalisation to the next level. Dresden lets their customers interchange the lenses and frame parts in a variety of colours and sizes. The result? Shoppers can purchase eyewear that’s unique, stylish and they have a positive experience with the brand.

4. Retailers that step up their social media strategies will thrive

The rise of Instagram Stories, Facebook Live, and Messenger apps will fundamentally change how retailers interact with consumers online. Simply posting photos or updates to a branded social profile won’t cut it anymore. Retailers will need to up their social media game and use social networks and apps to tell stories and engage with fans and followers in real-time.

5. QR codes will make a comeback

QR codes have gone in and out of style many times in the past decade or so, but for 2018, I’m willing to bet that these codes make a comeback. With Apple baking QR code scanning into iOS 11, it’s easier than ever to use QR codes. All you need to do is launch the iPhone’s native camera app, and it will automatically read the codes — no extra software required. This will encourage businesses to further leverage QR codes in their sales and marketing. Many brands are incorporating these codes into their packaging or advertising and marketing materials to make it easy for shoppers to quickly visit their website on their mobile device.

As a retailer it’s all about how well you adapt in 2018. For some, evolving might mean exploring new store formats or revamping their selection. For others, it could mean using new technologies or retraining their staff. In all cases, it will be about putting the customer first, and creating a more personal in-store experience.