How Has Technology Shaped the Modern Retail Industry?


It’s hard to think of an industry more affected by technology than retail. Every traditional retailer’s travail is, at some level at least, blamed on the competition provided by online rivals, Toys R Us being the latest in the list.

But, while it’s easy to see the story of retail and technology solely through the prism of disruption, there’s more to it than this. Indeed, technological developments have shaped the way in which we interact with retailers in many different ways.

Shopper knowledge

Firstly, it’s important to consider the advantage technology gives to shoppers. Smartphone wielding customers now have the means to price match products with ease. Indeed, they can even choose to order online from someone else while standing within your store and there’s nothing you can do about. Not only that, but the information on their phone allows them to explore much more detail about the products you are offering, from a host of other sources, downloading and using vouchers and offer codes. This is why retailers can ill afford to see online and offline as entirely separate – the user has the ability to do both at once and their experience needs to reflect this.

Retailer knowledge

So, has that tipped the balance firmly in favour of the consumer? Well, not quite. Customers might have more information than ever before, but so too do retailers. Loyalty cards and apps are no longer simply the preserve of supermarket giants – even small businesses can create these now. Such technology allows retailers to explore user behaviour and tailor their marketing messages and offers so that they can more effective. Yes, the user gets a ‘deal’ out of this, but the retailer gets data that is worth its weight in gold. Retailers are also able to deploy point of sale technology that makes it easier than ever to monitor stock, track and reward customers and tie in sales with accounting software. Self scan checkouts and online delivery services have also seen retailers embrace technology to make them more efficient and embrace the benefits of an online space that is typically blamed for stealing trade.

Times are still changing

While technology might have armed both customers and retailers with more knowledge than ever before, it’s also meant that both parties have become used to change. From signing receipts to typing in PINs to contactless cards and mobile phone payments, consumers have raced through a number of different payment technologies in a fairly short period of time.

The process is far from over. Retailers are now actively looking into ways in which augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) can be used to enhance a consumer’s experience. Luxury kitchen brands might soon be able to virtually place their customer into their dream kitchen and allow them to visualise what it might be like. Again, this would have a two-fold impact. Customers might well marvel at the interactivity they get but retailers would gain a powerful marketing tool that allows them to ‘sell’ an experience as much as a product.

It’s right, therefore, to say that technology has changed the way we shop. It’s wrong, however, to think that the impact has all been negative for retailers. While they undoubtedly face challenges – be they a greater array of rivals or more demanding customers – they are also able to use technology to find out more than ever before about their customers and deliver products and services in efficient ways.



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