eCommerce technology trends, sorting through the hype

Customer Experience – we’ve all heard the term, we all know what it intends to mean and convey, and we’re all committed to improving it – a better experience means happier customers, and happier customers engage and spend more.

Aside from a few short-lived pilots, and the tradeshow stands purporting to show the store of the future, real world stores have largely remained the same.

Likewise, the online experience hasn’t fundamentally changed, and customers still face the same disconnected experience and frustrations they have for the best part of two decades.

New and recycled buzzwords and acronyms surround us constantly – Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning, Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, Omni-channel, and a whole lot more 'virtual' things.

The word virtual is defined as 'not physically existing' or 'almost or nearly as described' – basically, it doesn’t exist. And it seems that it’s the only buzzword that’s made it in-store – in that all of the progress and tools available don’t actually exist in our stores as a permanent presence (a short-lived pilot doesn’t count!).

So how are these advanced, ‘virtual’ tools improving the customer experience? Well, by and large, they’re not. In that case, what should be our roadmap to turn these into successful tools that support the customer experience?

Step 1 – Convergence

What used to be called omni-channel, is changing as it starts to get deployed in real world scenarios and refined in practise. We’re seeing transactional channels (in-store and online) become unified – giving us a single view of customer, full breadth of product range available both instore and online, and some customer experience improvements around returns, extended ranges, endless aisle functions and more seamless click and collect.

We can expect to see this become the next big change to customer experience in retail, as the obvious end-game is the emergence of 'commerce systems' supplanting today’s fragile connections between largely separate POS and e-commerce systems.

Once these channels are unified, the buying history of customers instore, online and wherever else you sell become available for analysis

Which leads us to Step 2, and some buzzwords in AI and Machine Learning.

Step 2 – Artificial Intelligence, Pattern Recognition and Machine Learning

AI has been touted as the next big thing for decades, and we’re finally starting to see some progress in its capabilities, but the true take-out here is in the Machine Learning and Pattern Recognition subsets of this field. The tools are here, and work extremely well.

As well as the more traditional applications of trend identification, insight generation and reporting, more exciting applications include facial recognition, visual search and customer behaviour analysis.

When applied to customer experience, you gain new abilities to enhance the customer experience in-store. Picture walking into a store and being greeted by name, or store environments that change according to your preferences, such as quieter music if you’re the only person in that section of the store, there’s no reason the volume and selection can’t change to suit.

Focus on the ‘actual’ within the ‘virtual’

Retailers will need to strip down ‘virtual’ technologies into the components that make an ‘actual’, positive difference to their customers and their experience. By using technology to gain a better, more unified view of the customer, along with advanced customer behaviour analysis, you can vastly improve the customer experience.

It’s not the buzzword technologies that are the differentiator, it’s the application and combination of them that drives the next major changes to our instore and online experiences.

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