Retail technologies and in-store analytic tools are being used extensively across the retail industry to encourage a deeper understanding of consumer behaviour and, in so doing, optimise the industry’s brick-and-mortar performance. However, retailers in emerging economies are not in a position to employ some of the more futuristic retail technologies that are more commonplace in the US and Europe.

“Retail business decision-makers are increasingly recognising the value of data and insight-driven decision-making and will continue to invest in and rely heavily on information and analytics,” says Scott Matthews, Head of Moving Tactics Retail Analytics, the leading South African digital signage solutions company. “But in the same breath we must realise that retailers in emerging economies have a variety of challenges that make the implementation of the more futuristic retail technology ‘trends’ more difficult, at least for the time being.”

1. Self-Service Checkout Counters

You may think that self-service checkouts are no longer a new retail technology but in emerging markets, they are still very much a futuristic vision. Although it is being tested by various retailers, it is unlikely to be rolled-out in any major way as a result of two main factors. Firstly, threats of power outages and electricity load-shedding in many countries makes it risky to replace actual staff with power-reliant technologies. Secondly, the backlash of replacing people with technology and the threat of employing less people in this challenging economic climate may reflect badly on the retailer’s brand.

Instead of self-service checkout counters, virtual queue management systems are being implemented by retailers to mitigate queuing and improve customer service. “It not only reduces the amount of time your customers actually spend waiting but it also reduces the perceived waiting time. Most beneficially, a virtual queue management system allows customers to wander around in-store and continue to shop while they wait and, in so doing, increase their basket size,” explains Matthews.

2. Robotic AI-Empowered Shop Assistants

While we have already seen the uptake of touchscreen self-service kiosks that bridge the in-store environment with the online one in brick and mortar retailers across the country.

We will likely not be seeing robotic or AI empowered shop assistants in emerging markets just yet. In addition to the previously mentioned challenges such as power outages and the need to create employment, the development of the technology to respond to dynamic requests has not yet been developed adequately enough.

3. Holographic, Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality Marketing

Holographic, VR and AR technologies are slowly being applied by select retailers internationally to provide customers with an enhanced shopping experience. Augmented Reality, specifically, is being employed so that shoppers can try on clothing items in a virtual world before ordering the item.

To a large extent, these technologies are still being refined and have a way to go before being adopted more widely. The jump from static images or videos on a kiosk to an augmented reality image cannot yet be justified but with the increased popularity of holographic live performances, who knows how this will impact the retail environment in future. However, interactive fitting room mirrors are already a reality and means customers can interact with a product or request new sizes while trying on items in the fitting room.

4. In-Store Drones

During the past year, the testing of drone delivery services by companies like Amazon has created intense interest but even Amazon CEO, Jeff Bezos, believes it will take close to five years before it becomes a reality. There may, however, be pressure on brick-and-mortar retail space in the next few years as purchasing products from an in-store digital kiosks and having the product delivered direct to the customer becomes a retail norm.

“In an effort to stay ahead of the threat of competition from e-commerce, brick and mortar retailers need to continue to innovate when it comes to analytics and understanding their customers’ behaviour to invest. This is particularly relevant with readily available technologies such as footfall counting tools, in-store WiFi, customer feedback pads and audience measurement tools,” concludes Matthews.

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