Emerging technologies are changing the retail industry at an unprecedented rate. Industry watchers predict that the global market for IoT (Internet of Things) hardware for retail applications will total more than $ 94 billion by 2025.
The virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) market in global retail is expected to reach $ 1.6 billion by 2025, according to a study by the ICX Association.
Walmart and Target continue to invest in technological innovations to manage their growing omnichannel businesses. As early as 2017, Target used augmented reality technology to allow buyers to see what furniture would look like in their own spaces using smartphone cameras that interacted with Target’s website. Target has also tested the virtual makeup app online and in select stores. Walmart has used virtual reality to train its employees to use virtual reality glasses that transport employees to situations such as working on Black Friday and cleaning up dangerous spills.
But since COVID-19, demand for all kinds of technology has exploded, said Deborah Weinswig, CEO of Coresight Research.
âWe are seeing years of innovation in a matter of months,â she said.
For example, with the closing of fitting rooms in brick and mortar stores last year, the concept of contactless fitting has become a priority for some retailers. Brookfield Properties, a large mall operator, said last year that it plans to add 3D body scanners that would allow consumers to see which brands and sizes would suit them best.
Walmart recently announced the acquisition of virtual fitting room startup Zeekit for an undisclosed amount. Zeekit founder Yael Vizel, a former Israel Air Force captain, said her âEureka momentâ came as she used telecommunications software to map the topographies of the earth. She said the human body is like a topography with mountains and valleys. She founded Zeekit five years ago and developed the app which was first used by Macy’s and has been tested by many major fashion brands.
Last year Zeekit nearly doubled its workforce to 40 to keep up with demand. Vizel said when shoppers can virtually try on clothes before making an online purchase, the average return rate drops from 38% to around 2%.
âVirtual fitting is a game-changer and solves what has always been one of the hardest things to do online: understanding the fit and what an item will look like on you. Zeekit will help us deliver an inclusive, immersive and personalized experience to our diverse customer base, âsaid Denise Incandela, senior apparel manager at Walmart.
Zeekit’s technology uses real-time image processing to map a person’s image into thousands of segments. The clothes are treated the same and the equivalent points of the two are mapped in a final simulation, Incandela explained. She said Walmart believes Zeekit’s technology is scalable and can be used to create other fashion experiences as well, including the ability to create the world’s most complete virtual closet and seamlessly mix and match clothes. .
âThese exciting technologies add a social element to the digital experience, allowing our customers to bring their unique personalities and preferences to shopping,â said Incandela.
Gartner estimates that nearly 100 million consumers will have an augmented reality shopping experience in-store or online this year. ICX notes that as retailers have started to take advantage of technologies such as augmented and virtual realities, they will deliver more personalized experiences and bring products to life.
Ed Durbin, global director of retail solutions for VMware and researcher for ICX, said the shopping experience has changed dramatically in recent years – from bots able to identify the buying habits of shoppers to the experiences of immersive virtual reality going through the growing popularity of online shopping and picking up in stores.
He said technology will drive the future of retail as consumers demand their shopping experiences to improve. Retailers are increasing their resources at an unprecedented rate to minimize friction with customers, improve the customer experience, and improve overall efficiency.
Retail businesses that take advantage of emerging technologies such as AR / VR, IoT and mobility can deliver more convenient, engaging and personalized experiences. Those who do not embrace these technologies will fail to meet the growing demands of consumers and employees.
Michael Paladino, co-founder and CEO of Bentonville-based RevUnit, told the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal that retailers are starting to integrate augmented reality. The increase in BOPIS (online purchase, in-store collection) is the driving force behind this innovation.
âWe are working with one of our retail customers on an in-store experience that replaces labels printed in the aisles with digital displays,â he said. âThe displays will display labels and additional product content for employees and consumers. The idea is to eventually deliver AR / VR content via these screens to improve the customer experience. “
He said RevUnit also worked with a retail client who needed to integrate knowledge base access into the day-to-day activities of their field workers.
âTo solve this challenge, we created a chatbot – an AI-powered virtual assistant that relies on a vast knowledge base of employees,â said Paladino. âAll employees have to do is pick up their device and ask a question verbally. A few seconds later, the answer is provided.
While the demand for AR / VR technology applications has never been greater in retail, Paladino said that one of the challenges for the industry and developers is the lack of clean data and content and aggregates. He said the efforts require clean and accurate underlying data.
Charu Thomas, CEO of Bentonville-based tech startup Ox, said retailers continue to struggle with inventory accuracy at the highest level. She said that in stores, multiple people have the ability to touch shelf inventory – customers, employees, third-party service providers and suppliers. She said the methods of accurately tracking inventory in retail stores are often infrastructure-heavy, whether it’s robotics, computer vision, smart shelves, cameras, or even drones.
Thomas said COVID has increased the urgency for retailers to speed up online shopping, pick up in-store operations and expand delivery options. She said Ox is working with companies to create technology tools that allow faster execution as more stores are micro-fulfillment hubs in an omnichannel world. She said Ox technology could also be integrated with robotics and machine learning for improved pick rates with optimal precision.
âThe time to test these emerging technology applications is over,â said Thomas. âCompanies that want to be the most competitive in this new world need to take action and try to leverage technology with their business operations to improve performance behind the scenes and with regard to customer applications. “
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