If there is one constant theme in retail innovation, it’s how ideas and advances can make things easy.
This is true for businesses as much it is consumers. Clever technology means that robots–such as the automated piece-picking arm made by Righthand Robotics–are realistic partners for e-commerce, easily integrated to order fulfillment lines. Direct-to-object printing from Xerox means retailers can print images on a variety of 3D objects and textures, making personalization quicker than ever. And fashion is charting a similar course, with Thursday Finest offering straight-to-consumer, custom garments made by its “3D-knitting robot.”
These aren’t things you’ll find at some “shop of the future” event; they are things you can get now. And they represent just the tip of the iceberg. There are customer service robots, gamifications that use AR to put “virtual” furniture in your home to try before you buy…the list goes on. The technology they use isn’t brand-new, but the combination of affordability and application is. Retail, so often the front line for consumers to experience technology, is putting theory into action.
Footwear has perhaps the prettiest examples of how putting the customer first can solve some of the business’s more gristly goals. Kegan Schouwenburg, CEO and co-founder of SOLS , uses combinations of technology to answer the question: “How can I find shoes that fit?”
She paints a picture of the size of the problem – and the opportunity – in just a couple of stats. First, she says standard sizing is a nightmare. There can be up to two size changes between shoes in the same size, and 53 percent of people are wearing the wrong shoe size. Small wonder that there is a 30 percent return rate online for shoes – 80 percent of which are due to poor fit and 75 percent result in refunds. “This is an industry in which 15 percent of people who buy online and don’t get a shoe that fits as expected is a good result,” Schouwenburg says.
SOLS developed SIZERIGHT, which uses iPhone and a standard piece of paper to measure your feet. It’s simple and quick, giving potential buyers a true measurement and allowing retailers to make informed recommendations both online and in-store. “It impacts the e-commerce experience, but also retail and inventory,” Schouwenburg says. “Imagine going into a shop and the salesperson saying ‘Hi x, welcome to the store, these are the shoes that are going to fit you that we have in stock.’” It impacts design too, allowing manufacturers to look at the data and design according to the feet of people who want to buy running shoes, walking boots, or other types of footwear. “The problem is solved at the start rather than at the end.”
This perspective—the idea of using technology to catch people at the actual point of purchase and making that experience easier—is finding its way onto our roads, too. General Motors and IBM have joined forces to create what they call a cognitive mobility platform: OnStar Go. Launching April 2017, it uses Watson to create that “Knight Rider” moment, with the auto in a leading role as trusted co-pilot. As you’d expect, it links the car’s systems (traction control, telematics, etc.) with OnStar and The Weather Company, but future iterations will also link with and choreograph all mobile touchpoints.
As well as knowing how many seat belts are clicked in your car, things like buying while mobile and intuitive curbside pickup will be easier. If you’re on your way to a store, for example, the store can see you’re on your way, get your stuff ready, and load it for you. Or if you’re on your way home from work it can remind you to pick up things from your shopping list at the right exit so you don’t need to go out again. It’s all about making your experience on the road easier, more enjoyable, and more efficient.
Innovation is no panacea, but it does give businesses options for delivering better, more enjoyable experiences that engage customers like never before. One of these is to put into practice what the tech scene and future forecasters have been theorizing – and whether a clever startup or a major player, the best time to improve your customers’ lives is right now.
For more on how digital transformation is affecting the retail industry, see How IoT Is Poised To Change Retail.