Retailers Who Don't Break the Digital Divide Could Be Losing Customers

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Retailers Who Don't Break the Digital Divide Could Be Losing Customers

By Michele Dupré - 07/26/2019

Retail sees a monumental shift every generation, from mail order catalogs, to big box stores, to e-commerce; as technology moves forward retailers are able to bring their products to customers in new and exciting ways.

Now we are seeing retail shifting once more, moving beyond the previous notions of e-commerce and weaving digital into every aspect of their operations in a need to anticipate the individual consumers’ evolving desires.

Shoppers want convenience and a personalized experience, and they are taking note of which brands are going “all-in” on technology. 

The shift in customer perception is driven by over a decade of transformation that has seen consumer habits and shopping behavior quickly adapting to emerging technology in their retail experience.

What started as displaying inventory of local stores during an online search and special offers pushed to customers phones through geolocation is making way for the next generation of technology; largely driven by retailer’s adoption of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Augmented Reality (AR).

This creates a sort of “digital divide” in the minds of shoppers when it comes to new technology. Brands who have a history of investing in technology to provide the best customer experience are becoming more apparent to shoppers, and in many cases, more trusted.

Brands who ignored the opportunity to innovate are left playing catch up, both in implementing ideas and building a reputations.

It’s easy to see why AI and AR are attractive technologies for brands. It offers the opportunity to bridge the gap between a “virtual” shopping experience and a physical one.

However, 5G technology will be one of the biggest drivers behind retailers being able to tap into the full potential of AR and AI at scale.

5G, the latest generation of mobile technology, will offer speeds and bandwidth many times faster than 4G and open up opportunities for brands to engage with their customers in ways and at a scale they couldn’t before.

Companies like Envrmnt are using AR to create a virtual heads up display that gives you instant information to make educated purchasing decisions. Just hold your phone up to the grocery shelf and AR powered object recognition can tell you if cereals have nuts, or how to apply the beauty products you’re looking at all on one screen shot.

Then there’s Evercoast, which is developing a virtual fitting room that captures video of a person using 16 high-def cameras from 180 degrees then delivers that in 3D form to VR goggles or a looking glass display so they can put themselves in different outfits, settings, etc. 

Another such evolution between the online and in-store experience is the cross-pollination of brands.  The idea of “stores within a store” was the first, offering niche brands the opportunity to be exposed to shoppers in a larger physical environment.  Then many retailers began using their physical locations as places to pick up or exchange online orders.

Recently, Kohls took that to the next step when it announced select stores will accept returns from Amazon. 

As brands further blur the lines of what is a physical and online marketplace, concepts like these serve customers who care more about a seamless shopping experience over anything else.

-Michele Dupré, group vice president, Retail, Hospitality, and Distribution for Verizon Business Group