Top 7 Retail Technology Trends to Watch in 2019

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Top 7 Retail Technology Trends to Watch in 2019

By Justin Honaman - 12/21/2018
Justin Honaman is managing director, digital technology advisory at Accenture.

2018 was an interesting and exciting year in retail. The overall market was strong, unemployment was low, we did not see as many store closings as in previous years. Traditional malls continued to spiral while new live-play-work-shop experiential shopping concepts took off, shopping channels continued to blend with online and in-store availability and access becoming the expectation for consumers. Speaking of channel conversion, distribution channels for products and marketing channels for brand messaging and product information are quickly converging. Retailers are finding new, creative ways to stimulate purchase intent and convert it into sales across all channels.

Cyber security and privacy ― which have been somewhat important over the last few years ― became hot and of primary focus for all industries (not just retail). As data breaches become more commonplace, consumers are demanding increased security from retailers while expecting transparency and honesty from the brands they engage with. More on this later.

Customer loyalty is increasingly harder to win and retain. Retail giants like Amazon and Walmart strategically use supply chain to optimize customer experience and provide everything from shopping and entertainment to house cleaning and fast meals, even though it is not always profitable for these companies, forcing other retailers to consider new strategies to winning customer loyalty.

And in the world of data and analytics, we have moved into the era of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and what many companies are branding intelligent automation as priorities to leverage data to drive decisions and make processes more efficient. Retailers are evaluating automation use cases to improve business functions from customer service to inventory management and delivery.

2019 is poised to be another eventful year, below are a few key trends that will be of utmost importance over the next 12 months

#1 CYBER SECURITY

The world of digital is fundamentally changing the security landscape. The rapid expansion of emerging technologies that enable digital capabilities and provide on-demand services is adding to the security risks that threaten retailers’ businesses. Cloud and mobility adoption means that almost 50 percent of most organizations’ IT landscapes exist outside the control of their CIOs. Rapid business expansion can mean retail organizations struggle to identify who has responsibility for an individual process when it is threatened. As attack surfaces continue to widen across systems, devices, people, partners and infrastructure, it’s evident that embracing technology as a key driver of growth can amplify opportunities for complex cyber attacks.

 Success in tomorrow’s digital retail business will largely depend on security decisions made today. Crucially, retail business and security leaders are increasingly focused on interlocking security strategy and cyber defense capabilities to strengthen business resilience and brand trust that are so essential in today’s connected retail world.

There are new threats: open networks with consumer-owned devices can be attacked in fundamentally different ways than closed networks and proprietary devices. Cloud computing changes both threats and attack surface. There are richer digital targets such as analytics data, personal shopper data, loyalty data, payment information, etc. and this data is of increasing value and susceptible to attack. Due to all of these factors there is a new classes of attackers: the richer targets and increased impact provide motive, while the new threats and attack surface offer the opportunity. Bottom line is that retailers must invest more heavily in cyber security capabilities ― and this priority will roll well beyond 2019. The overall impact changes in nature and magnitude as loss or compromise of digital assets more directly impacts the digital retail business.

Retailers must take a 360-degree approach that addresses the spectrum of security issues across people, process and technology. Retailers must establish comprehensive threat protection that takes into account customers, employees, contractors, vendors, applications and systems. Think beyond the perimeter firewall to secure cloud, mobile, and IoT operations and data wherever it resides. As a result, retailers can better maintain, operate and optimize business operations. In retail, central concerns include payment card regulatory compliance and theft of customer data.

Despite all of the resources invested in traditional information security approaches, many organizations still fall prey to cyber attacks and are unprepared to deal with rapidly blurring enterprise boundaries. With the stakes growing higher ― including potential impacts on shareholder value, revenue and compliance ― security is now a priority agenda item in the retail boardroom and across the c-suite.

#2 A NEW ANALYTICS APPROACH

I was presenting to a packed retail audience in a break-out session in the basement of the Javits Center at NRF several years ago. I asked the audience to raise their hands if they had a dedicated data/analytics team within their retail organization ― less than 25% of the room raised their hands. The big retailers had the resources ― the smaller retailers didn’t have the budget, systems, focus, or people to make much more than “reporting and analysis” a priority. Even the big retailers were largely doing traditional reporting vs. analytics or employing true data-driven business capabilities.

While analytics is no longer “over there in IT,” the model for how to best deploy analytics capabilities, staff analytics resources, and build data platforms to support both have evolved. To focus analytics investments in 2019, retailers will look at harmonizing methods of operationalizing data (data capture, management and transformation, and business intelligence), employing advanced analytics (customer segmentation, scoring and forecasting, and commercial and operational forecasting and optimization), and create memorable, story-worthy customer experiences (personalization, digital engagement).

#3 DATA TRANSPARENCY

As stated in the 2019 Fjord Trends Report, data’s newsworthy appearances throughout 2018 distorted people’s understanding of the value exchange between data owner and data user (retailer). Expectations around how much people’s personal data is worth became falsely inflated, and the mystery surrounding how it’s used became a cause for concern for consumers. Moving forward, organizations must design for transparency, so that consumers can trust that they’re pursuing only the data they need to build new products and services, and that they’re using and storing that data responsibly.

Retailers must set expectations regarding data capture and utilization and operate to those standards. Empower consumers to know how, where and why their data was used in your personalization framework and make clear what they will get in return. Gone are the days when consumers will willingly hand over all their information without clear reason, payback, or benefit.

In addition, retailers must ensure that customer data strategy is centered on collecting only what’s needed to drive an experience or level of service. Collection, measurement and utilization to provide products and/or services are linked.

#4 ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE (AI)

Retailers are fundamentally changing their business methods by embracing AI. Retailers now have access to new sources of data and are evaluating disruptive technologies and embedded applications. Walk the floors of the NRF Big Show and you will find numerous examples of AI coming to life.

At the same time, the challenges around value in AI include difficulty in realizing the expected return on investment; leveraging talent; harnessing the value of data due to monolithic, disconnected, inflexible data environments; the strained relationship between business and IT; and the lack of cultural DNA to embrace new technology.

Artificial intelligence is defined as smart machines that extend human capabilities by sensing, comprehending, acting, and learning, allowing people to achieve much more. Consumers now routinely use AI-driven technology features such as digital voice assistants. There are many benefits to interacting with computer-based applications rather than human advisors. They are available any time, demonstrate less bias (unless programmed), are faster to engage and provide service (limited wait time), and yes, even communicate more politely (tough for a computer to bring emotion into a digital conversation)!

Retail will see a continued shift in approaches to developing products and services as emotional intelligence (EQ) becomes a critical AI differentiator. AI is central to understanding the needs and desires of different consumers, personalizing services, and driving demand.

From a retail personalization perspective, AI enables a curated shopping experience online. Think two different shoppers visiting an e-commerce site and receiving completely different and tailored experiences, from personalized product recommendations to personalized pricing and offers. Of course, this is only possible if the data exists on the shopper and their prior behavior on the site (hence data and analytics still an investment priority to support AI).

No doubt, AI will be front and center with most major retail technology providers in 2019 and on the list of “capabilities to invest in” for most retailers. The buzzword evolving beyond “AI” is intelligent automation.

#5 BLOCKCHAIN

Sigh. I know what you’re thinking. We’ve been hearing the blockchain buzz for more than two years with little to show for it in retail. Is it real or like big data and omnichannel – the fad / buzzword / trend / cool-phrase-that-makes-you-look-smart-when-speaking-at-trade-shows? I even covered this topic last year and I left it in the 2019 edition as the technology will absolutely continue to evolve in 2019. Bitcoin, blockchain, distributed ledgers, cryptocurrencies ― the developments around these technologies are proceeding at a rapid pace and while they are not prevalent in retail today, they will be “very” soon.

One of the reasons why Bitcoin and other crypto-currencies are getting such buzz is because they offer an opportunity to bypass “expensive” forms of payment for something much cheaper – if crypto-currencies can keep their transactions “cheap.” So there is the potential for a lot of demand for crypto-currencies from a consumer perspective, but right now it’s a pretty complex process to set up a digital wallet, gain access to a crypto-currency exchange, and start buying up coins. And the security of some of these crypto-currency markets is not assured.

What are the Blockchain implications to retail?

  • Product Track-and-Trace. The blockchain framework allows all members of the value chain – supplier, manufacturer, retailer, consumer – to have visibility into products from source through production to store to consumer. Track food from source to plate. Ensure products were created in environments meeting specific regulations and/or requirements. We saw great examples of where this would have been helpful in 2018 with the romaine lettuce and meat recalls.
  • Counterfeit Goods. Consumer goods can be certified with blockchain’s anti-counterfeiting solution (Block Verify) for pharma, luxury, and electronics. Counterfeit goods continue to be an issue for both retailers and CPG manufacturers and Block Verify allows for detection and identification of counterfeit items.
  • Product Warranties. Many companies today are already using solutions to move product warranty information into the cloud via blockchain. This allows the warranty to be easily updated and transferrable. The consumer “owns” the warranty and can manage it, eliminating the need for retailers and CPG companies to get stuck in administrivia. From a retail perspective, this is still a challenge as current POS systems do not seamlessly enable a personalized warranty hand-off.
  • Trade Promotion Management. Trade deals between retailers and consumer product suppliers today largely leverage spreadsheets, databases, e-mail exchanges and for some, more sophisticated trade promotion management (TPM) software. The process is cumbersome and largely inefficient, resulting in over- and under-payments, confusion over product deals / promotions / discounts / allowances / etc. The TPM space is ripe for transformation and disintermediation and thus the potential use case for blockchain – the solution could enable faster recoveries for retailers for deals executed on specific promoted products.

#6 POP-UP STORES

For many years, I always thought of pop-up stores as the Halloween shops that opened in abandoned retail spots in September, would somehow have a full inventory of Halloween gear, sell it, and disappear by November only to re-appear the following September.

Now, the pop-up store trend is evolving and becoming popular in new and different ways – especially with up-start brands looking to build brand awareness, a following, test product concepts, and allow consumers to touch, feel and try products (something the online retailers cannot deliver). Pop-up stores offer a unique retail proposition as they do not come with many of the costs associated with traditional retail (e.g. long-term leases, inventory, staff, utilities).

Pop-up stores also allow a shopper to see and feel a product in person before purchasing it – one of the biggest negatives of e-commerce – especially for new products. In addition, the brand has an opportunity to create a personalized, hi-touch experience driving loyalty and buzz while influencing the buying decision.

Finally, pop-up stores allow the retailer to go wherever the customers are located. Instead of being forced into specific retail locations, the retailer can match products with the personality of a given shopper demographic and go there ― then move as needed to try out different markets and shopper segments. Pop-up stores are not tied-down by expensive POS systems and can quickly get up-and-running on simple payment solutions.

Many digitally-native brands like Bonobos, Glossier, Brandless, Warby Parker and others have extended their brands into the physical space and even traditional retailers like Macy’s are experimenting with concepts (e.g. The [email protected]'s concept gives shoppers the ability to touch and feel products that they normally would not see in a fresh environment)

#7 AMAZON DELIVERY

I live in Atlanta and we have a small place out I-20 at Lake Oconee which is about 90 minutes East of Atlanta. I have noticed over the last year that every time I drive out to the lake, I see tractor trailers heading west – each with three brand new Amazon delivery vans onboard. I flew to Tampa last week for a meeting and there on the tarmac were several Amazon cargo planes. The question is…will Fedex and UPS (and even the USPS) be able to transform fast enough to keep up with the systems Amazon is putting in place around delivery?

Furthermore, Amazon’s method of leveraging local drivers and vehicles to deliver packages is ― similar to Uber and Lyft ― a cost-effective and low-overhead method for moving merchandise quickly, efficiently and even translating value to the local market in leveraging a pool of drivers.

While Amazon will need delivery partners in the short-term, what happens to those delivery companies in the longer term once Amazon has its delivery system in place? Amazon could very quickly move into warehousing and fulfillment of inventory for major brands (which they already do today for smaller brands with Fulfillment by Amazon). Amazon becomes the one-stop back-office, fulfillment shop for retailers allowing them to focus on front-office, shopper engagement, and brand-building. Amazon is able to move rapidly as they are not weighed-down by monolithic legacy systems and processes.

I haven’t seen the Amazon delivery vans on a regular basis in my neighborhood (yet) but with the number heading west on I-20, I expect that to change very soon.

BUZZWORD BINGO FOR 2019

If you are looking to fill out your proverbial buzzword bingo card for 2019, here are a few trending topics/buzzwords to add to your card. Carry this around with you at NRF, shop.org, Oracle, SAP and JDA retail events, Momentum Retail, ShopTalk, and of course the Cathy Hotka dinners – I promise you will have many Bingos!

Here are a few to add to your 2019 Bingo card:

Pop-Up Store, AI and Machine Learning (which always seem to be used together), Intelligence Automation, Digital Transformation, Shopper Experience, 360 Customer View (trending down but still out there due to disparate data sources), Customer Journey Mapping, Breach, Personalization, Blockchain, Amazon, anything “at scale,” and all things “Seamless.”

Bingo!