[Intern Insight] Imagining the Future: Technological Advancements in Retail

Technological Advancements

What I find particularly fascinating in the retail sector right now is how different the customer experience is from 10 years ago, or 5 years ago, or even from last month all because of technological advancements.

From in-store displays that convert mirrors into virtual changing rooms, online fashion advisors, to the simple fact that I can sit at my desk, right now, write this article and at the same time buy these awesome shoes (hopefully not fake) from China. Omnichannel is the new retail god.

So, it got me thinking. With all these technological advancements, what will the retail environment look like in 10 years?

Actually, what do I want it to look like? It is obvious, to me as a customer, that I am in control.

At the moment, I have images popping up in my mind. Remember ‘Minority Report’? When Tom Cruise is running desperately through a shopping center hoping to avoid the prescient police? One of his major problems is that every time he enters a store his retinas are scanned and he is immediately identified. For a retail company that would be like hitting the jackpot. Large amounts of data filtered directly into business analytics: how many customers return, patterns of behavior, average basket purchase – where, when, how, for whom.

As awesome as it sounds – not having to explain my needs or wants to a retail employee, or vice versa, for that employee to respond and anticipate my requirements – having a business know more about me than I’m aware of might be terrifying. For example, I have no clue how much I spent last month, 5 years ago or 10 years ago. In this suggested future, somewhere, in a database, I will be quantified and coded and all my retail experiences will be translated into 1s and 0s.

Don’t get me wrong I love technology, but I also crave the human element. I may constantly refuse assistance when entering a store because I do not know what I want, but I also don’t want to end up having to remove my eyeballs just to have a bit of privacy.

What I do anticipate is the arrival of AI in retail stores. With the ‘Internet of Things’ revolutionizing the way we interact with our reality AI already plays an important in role in our shopping experiences. Our mobiles know how many steps we take, our fridges can tell us when we’re out of milk, and soon our cars might end up at work without us because we overslept. In retail, we find AI in the online platforms, such as chatbots, where virtual assistants guide us through ordering and purchasing.

10 years from now that’s going to be different. The technological advancements, I’m talking about are things like the digital hologram – or the human-like robot – that will assist me without my noticing the difference between its service and the one provided by any current retail expert. Talk about a proper Turing test.

In 10 years, I imagine myself in conversation with such a human-like AI. That would bridge the gap between efficient technological service and the human interactive element that I crave. The AI would be autonomously capable of processing my request without the assistance from any human control. Strangely enough, I would trust it more with my personal data. Why? Because machines on their own don’t have hidden intentions.

That or we all end up in the Matrix.

This post is brought to you by one of AQ’s Undergraduates, Laura Susnea. As part of our internship programs, undergraduates and classic interns are encouraged to take part in company culture. Laura’s primary project focusses on training programs and eLearning and how best to adapt this to industries under pressure. 

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