Facebook is one step closer to linking consumers online and offline retail behaviour, Australian clothing retailers are working together to target three-hour product delivery, and voice payments are gaining traction.
These are the big stories leading retail this month as 2018 sees the industry very much open for business, albeit with a massive tech focus.
So let’s investigate the major retail innovations and trends hitting the headlines in the first weeks of 2018…
Australian retailers band together
News Ltd reports major retailers like Big W, Woolworths, Samsung, Rivers and H&M are banding together to support a massive $160 million automated retail and e-commerce hub being built by logistics firm Toll.
The hub is being constructed on the outskirts of Sydney and promises a three-hour turnaround from order to delivery.
“Of that investment, $50 million alone has gone on automation, reducing what would be a 2000 strong workforce to just 200 people.
“Yet, the company claims the centre is 10 times as efficient. It can process more than two items a second and brings the holy grail of shopping — the three-hour turnaround from order to delivery.
“Just 30 minutes after a customer finalises an online order it can picked, packed and be ready to be couriered.”
Toll has flagged the possibility of similar hubs in each capital city.
Kogan and Afterpay illustrate the value of online retail
Australian retailers embracing the online realm are among the big winners in the financial stakes, bucking a recent trend that sees industry stalwarts like Myer taking a huge market hit.
The Australian notes retailers gaining traction are Kogan, who has now overtaken Myer in market capitalisation, and Afterpay, the Australian-invented shopping payment service which allows consumers to lay-by online.
“You have to classify the success at Kogan and Afterpay not as exceptions that prove the rule but rather as exemplars which have captured new trends in retailing, just as Frank Lowy once captured the move towards shopping malls with Westfield or Gerry Harvey captured the move towards franchising with Harvey Norman.”
Not just retailers but tech companies
Forbes explains retailers are “no longer just retailers” but tech companies, with big names like Amazon and Walmart leading the charge. Last month saw the opening of Amazon’s store without a checkout ‘Amazon Go’ while Walmart is venturing further into e-commerce and “continually using their ‘Store No 8’ or their technology incubation centre to test out new tech that could be scalable in the next five years.”
And they’re not the only ones. Forbes continues, the recent US National Retail Federation event attracted 37,000 retailers with digital transformation front and centre as the major theme.
“From retailers becoming innovators, to the IoT streamlining a customer’s shopping experience, the focus this year was solving business problems in the retail industry, not just implementing shiny new tech.”
Key themes included:
- Tech as a problem solver
- The expansion of mobile
- A greater focus on personalisation
- The use of AI
- Voice assistants to help customers
- How IoT is streamlining shopping
Facebook to hit the retail holy grail
Facebook is closing the gap on what it knows about consumers’ online and offline shopping behaviour, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.
“Under a recent partnership with some US retailers, Facebook can track when a smartphone-carrying user has gone into an advertisers’ physical store by using geolocation tracking, “beacon” technology or data from public Wi-Fi networks.”
Facebook’s head of global retail and ecommerce strategy, Martin Barthel, notes the “cherry on the top” is when those retailers send Facebook in-store transaction data, gathered from loyalty schemes or by credit card companies.
“You can measure who saw your ad on Facebook, who came into your store and ultimately who bought something in the store,” Mr Barthel told Fairfax Media on the sidelines of the Nation Retail Federation’s annual convention in New York City earlier this month.
“You can measure the entire customer journey, which is the holy grail of marketing.”
Shoppers vocal about voice payments
Forty per cent of consumers plan to use voice assistants instead of apps and mobile sites, according to a Capgemini survey of 5000 people featured in pymnts.com.
According to the report, 81 per cent of users have already tried voice assistants via their smartphones, and approximately 32 per cent have tried them with a smart speaker.
Meanwhile 35 per cent of polled users have ordered clothes via voice and 31 per cent predict they will use a voice assistant in place of going to a physical shop within the next three years.
Retail robot sacked for unhelpful advice
Finally, in an example of retail tech gone awry, The Telegraph reports “Britain’s first cyborg shop assistant was sacked after a week of confusing customers”.
Used as part of an experiment, the robot affectionately named Fabio was programmed with directions to hundreds of items within the Edinburgh flagship store of retailer Margiotta. Fabio initially charmed customers with his ‘hello gorgeous’ greeting, playful high fives, jokes and offers of hugs, but things soon turned sour when he started offering unhelpful advice.
“…within just a few days, the robot was demoted after giving unhelpful advice such as ‘it’s in the alcohol section’ when asked where to find beer. He also struggled to understand shoppers’ requests because of the ambient background noise.
“Banished to an aisle where he was only allowed to offer samples of pulled pork, Fabio started to alarm customers who went out of their way to avoid him.
“However, when Franco Margiotta, who built the business from scratch, told the little robot they would not be renewing his contract, Fabio asked: “Are you angry?” and some staff were reduced to tears when he was packed away and shipped back to Heriot-Watt.”