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Moving Beyond Omnichannel: The Top Big Developments in Retail Technology

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Omnichannel shopping – where consumers can use multiple channels to research, buy and collect products, all while being recognised by the brand regardless of how they choose to interact – has long been a familiar concept to retailers. But as demand for an even more technology-focused shopping experience continues to increase, how can businesses take their offering a step further to better meet ever-changing customer expectations?

Finance Monthly hears from Sharon Manikon, Managing Director of Customer Solutions at Barclaycard, on what’s next for retail technology and the many ways we shop.

Staying up-to-date with the latest technology can be a challenge, but it can also hold the key to standing out from the competition, leading to increased footfall and more satisfied customers. Here, Barclaycard explores three common shopper frustrations and the technologies emerging to help businesses satisfy those needs.

Reduce fitting room frustrations with smart changing rooms

Barclaycard research reveals that three in ten shoppers (29%) become frustrated when they have to queue for a fitting room. One potential solution is to offer ‘virtual’ changing rooms, an interface in which customers upload a photo of themselves or create an avatar with their measurements, then ‘try on’ clothing items. This could prove a big hit, with three in 10 people (30%) saying they would be more likely to shop with a retailer using this technology.

Online shoppers are also interested, with 30% reporting that virtual changing rooms on a retailer’s website would help them when making a purchase. Offering ‘smarter’ fitting room options both in-store and online could therefore alleviate consumer frustrations and may even help retailers cut down on the number of items that are returned.

Keep queues short with the next generation of payments

The Barclaycard results also finds that four in ten shoppers (42%) get annoyed when they have to wait in a queue at the checkout. Payment technology can hold the key to lessening those long lines; indeed, new, faster payment methods are already helping to do this. Retailers should prepare for the increased popularity of checkout options like contactless, wearables and invisible payments.

Firstly, Barclaycard’s Contactless Spending Index reveals that half (50%) of Brits now pay contactlessly at least once a month – and this number is set to increase, with contactless spend jumping by 166% in 2016. Our data also shows that the trend to pay via ‘touch and go’ payments on a mobile or using wearables, clothing or accessories that has become more popular in the past two years is likely to continue to go from strength to strength this year.

In the longer term, invisible payments like those pioneered by Uber will gain traction, as they allow customers to complete a transaction within an app without ever hitting ‘checkout’ or walking to a till in-store. An extension of invisible payments that is currently under development is ‘scan and pay’ apps. These enable consumers to walk into a store, scan an item on their phone and pay ‘invisibly’ through payment details that they have previously input and stored on their device. Although the technology has only just been tested, one in five customers (19%) already say they would welcome apps to scan and automatically pay for items.

Retailers should expect consumers to embrace this technology in the next few years. Contactless, mobile and wearables are already starting to become mainstream, and the growth of invisible payment options will soon start to emerge as ways to pay in the retail space.

Improve the customer service with conversational commerce tools

Today’s demanding shoppers also expect more from customer service, and want quick and easy interactions at any time of day – through whatever channel they choose. According to a recent survey by ubisend, a chatbot development company, 51% of people say businesses should be available 24/7 and half (49%) would rather contact a business through messaging, such as texting, than on the phone. Companies are already using various forms of artificial intelligence (AI), such as computer systems that are able to perform basic tasks and answer simple queries, so to satisfy this demand brands should watch the AI space for applications that they can integrate into their high street stores.

As customers continue to seek out other payment options besides in-person transactions, corporations could see a rise in ‘conversational commerce,’ or the use of AI for making purchases. Already, chatbots, AI customer service tools in apps and online platforms, and digital assistants like Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa, are becoming popular stand-ins for personal shoppers and check-out counters. As this technology continues to develop, consumer demand for it across all aspects of commerce is also poised to increase.

Consumer expectations are driving exciting innovations in the retail space. Payment solutions providers are already looking forward to make sure payment systems continue to match customer demands – and businesses should ensure they are keeping up too. Not all of these solutions are ready to hit the high street, but retailers can stay abreast of new developments by speaking with their payment providers and exploring advances in technology. The brands that embrace these new tools will be most likely the ones driving repeat – and new – custom.

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