By Pragati Verma, Contributing Editor, Straight Talk
Retail has become digital, ever since online shopping entered the mainstream. But with the pandemic accelerating change in every step of the shopping journey, retailers are further tapping digital technologies. While the future of retail and consumer products holds great uncertainty, here are five prominent technologies promising to change retail:
With many consumers avoiding the stores during the pandemic, several retailers are taking advantage of livestream-based e-commerce, where viewers can tap on a product pin during a livestream to put the item in a virtual shopping cart for immediate purchase or for after the event. Walmart, for example has hosted shoppable live stream events on social video app TikTok and Nordstorm has launched a shoppable, interactive live platform to host events featuring beauty, skincare and fashion experts who provide tips as they showcase and sell their products. At the same time, technology companies have incorporated livestream content platforms, such as Amazon Live and Instagram Live, to support online sales.
The e-commerce boom has pushed several retailers to bring experience virtual. American Eagle Outfitters, for instance, has partnered with social media platform Snapchat to launch an AR Jeans guide that lets users view different types of 3D American Eagle jeans in augmented reality by using the back camera. When users virtually turn a pair of jeans, they can see specific fits, washes, unique details and styling advice, as well as click to buy. Similarly, nail brand Essie has partnered with ModiFace to create Essie on-hand, a virtual try-on salon that lets users test Essie nail polishes. The web-based tool virtually applies polish on users' hands by tracking nail shape and movement of fingers through the back-facing camera. The tool's AR application and color depiction allow users to visualize how the Essie nail polish shade will appear on them.
Retailers are using autonomous mobile robots to keep up with booming e-commerce orders. Walmart has added micro-fulfilment centers to its several store locations. Instead of an associate walking the store to fulfill an order from their shelves, automated bots retrieve the items in these compact, modular warehouses within stores. The items are then brought to a picking workstation, where the order can be quickly assembled. Walmart is not alone. Sam’s Club has also integrated robot pickers in its fulfillment center in Perris, California in partnership with GreyOrange and Quadient and plans to use this location as the blueprint for future innovation in its supply chain.
Plans for drones delivering groceries, medicines and other goods are nearing takeoff. Alphabet’s Wing Aviation, UPS’ Flight Forward, and Amazon’s Prime Air have received approvals from the Federal Aviation Administration to fly packages to their customers’ doorsteps. In Virginia, a coffee-roasting company called Brugh Coffee is delivering coffee by drone, utilizing Wing drone delivery company. Walmart is also working with Flytrex to conduct a drone delivery pilot in North Carolina to see if they can deliver in backyards in a safe and cost-effective manner.
Pragati Verma is a writer and editor exploring new and emerging technologies. She has managed technology sections at India’s The Economic Times and The Financial Express.