Shifts in consumer behavior used to evolve over decades, often from generation to generation. Today, they change dynamically, driven by macro-level events like the pandemic and disruptive new technologies and applications. Advances in online shopping, such as recommendations, one-click payments and buy-online-pickup-anywhere have fueled a growing desire for frictionless buying experiences in all retail channels.
The unprecedented growth in retail innovation during the pandemic is best explained by the age-old proverb: “Necessity is the mother of invention.” Faced with partial to total lock downs on in-store traffic, retailers discovered their inner agility and came to understand that they could leverage cloud technologies to develop and deploy bold new consumer engagement and fulfillment strategies in weeks versus months or years.
Pandemic-born innovations like curbside pickup have started to normalize and will undoubtedly become a permanent part of the physical store experience.
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With the holiday season upon us, retailers are excited about how they can leverage their cloud platforms to engage shoppers with more immersive digital experiences that bring together the best of online and physicals store environments. New customer experiences will be paramount to holiday success given supply chain constraints facing every segment of retail. Below are a few of the most promising innovations we’re seeing from retailers this holiday season.
Reimagining Dot.com as the ‘Flagship’ Store
One way retailers are delivering a more immersive and personalized digital experience is by virtualizing their flagship stores so shoppers can enjoy an in-store experience when they shop remotely. Tech startup Obsess builds immersive online store across practically every retail segment: fashion, beauty, home goods, big box, telecom, electronics, and more. Obsess runs their entire virtual store infrastructure in the cloud, and can deliver rich, high performance 3D environments all around the world.
As consumer traffic to virtual stores increases, Obsess can scale its cloud infrastructure to accommodate more stores and more traffic quickly and cost effectively thanks to the elasticity of the cloud.
Livestream Shopping: Entertainment and Shopping From Your Couch
Livestream shopping has become wildly popular in China, where it’s already a $60 billion industry, and is quickly being adopted in other regions, especially as people are spending more time at home. Cloud innovation allow retailers to broadcast livestreams worldwide with latency as low as three seconds.
Retailers can add a parallel stream with featured product information, polling, and other audience engagement tactics to create interactive audience experiences and drive purchases. For example, celebrities and influencers can curate their must-have products and top deals, and shoppers can watch live and previously recorded livestream content on fashion, homewares, technology, cosmetics, and fitness, and easily purchase showcased products.
Even with the massive shift to online channels, retailers know that physical stores help deepen customer relationships and boost brand loyalty. One big area of focus is the creation of “smart stores” that deliver the same conveniences offered to online customers through greater in-store personalization, digital assistants, and “checkout-free” experiences so customers never have to wait in line.
A great example is Nike’s Instant Checkout mobile app, which lets shoppers scan and pay for products with their phone. Further, new biometric technologies enable shoppers to pay for their items simply by scanning the palm of their hand.
With shoppers eager to return to stores, retailers have an obligation to protect the health and safety of customers. With smart store technologies that leverage computer vision and digital shelf edge technologies, retailers can gain real-time visibility into aisle conditions and can monitor customer flow patterns and density to detect overcrowding, enforce social distancing, or to ensure people can easily move through the store on busy days.
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As retailers continue to grapple with supply chain issues, their investments in cloud technologies will enable them to accelerate their digital transformation through IT modernization, and use of AI/ML to drive better customer experiences and operational efficiencies. When creating new cloud-based experiences for their customers, they should start with the customer and work backward to the solution.
Answering questions like “Who is my customer?”, “How do they prefer to shop?”, and “What are the points of friction in their shopping journey?” will help retailers elevate customer experiences across channels and reap the benefits of happier customers, deeper loyalty, and increased sales.
Tom Litchford leads AWS’ retail and wholesale industry strategy and guides the leadership team to address customers’ business needs. Tom’s 40 years of experience in the retail and hospitality industries has included leadership positions at NCR Corporation and Microsoft. Prior to joining AWS in 2017, Tom served as VP of retail technologies at the National Retail Federation, where he oversaw the organization’s cybersecurity program, the Association for Retail Technology Standards (ARTS) programs and its technology communities, including the invite-only CIO Council, Women in Retail IT, IT Security Council and the Tech Council.