January 29, 2019 by Ashwin Ramasamy

Predicting the future is difficult, however as sci-fi writer William Gibson is believed to have once stated, “The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.” As my day job revolves around poring over petabytes of statistics about ecommerce companies, I already see the future a little early. A portion of the retail trends detailed below is now happening due to advancements in artificial intelligence, predictive analytics, and scalable big data toolsets. Here are our predictions for the top 10 retail technology trends for 2019.

1. Voice shopping in vehicles may arrive

On the account of the consistent incorporation of voice interfaces in cars, we predict that there will soon be the ability to utilize our voices to shop amid our drives. We could see billboards prominently using voice shopping calls to action. Amazon launched its Alexa Auto Software Development Kit in August, which allows you to summon Alexa for navigation, controlling entertainment options, building a shopping list, and so on. But, for the obvious reasons, we won’t see retailers enthusiastically get onboard with Alexa. Ok, Google?

2. The return on investment for AI in retail will become more clear

We think AI-based curation will probably propel retail companies in specific categories of adult fashion and baby products into an orbit of fast growth, giving the truly necessary ROI baptism for AI tech. Stitch Fix and Kidbox are two examples. These companies have demonstrated that the information they have about the preferences of their subscribers can be examined and modeled at scale by utilizing AI and machine learning systems to recommend highly relevant products and drive the upsell, thereby showing that they are great case studies for the ‘much-awaited mainstream proof’ of AI’s time has come in retail.

3. Computer vision in retail may move to it’s less exciting parts

We predict that innovations like computer vision (a set of AI techniques that enable computers to see, categorize and process images just like humans) will have early adopters in areas other than visual search and suggestions and will move into dreary areas of retail, like product tagging and quality control for grocery retailers. Salesforce’s new computer vision service (Einstein Visual Search) is a case of computer vision becoming mainstream. It enables shoppers to search a retailer’s online catalog faster with a photo of the specific item they are after. While the technology has dependably been there, we think the accessibility to massive caches of images, big data technology to process them productively and with heavy-weights like Salesforce taking it to the enterprise, implies that computer vision is a technology whose time has come.

4. Direct-to-consumer retail growth momentum could be muted

We figure the CAC will probably keep on ascending for direct-to-consumer brands because of the expanding rivalry for client acquisition throughout all social media platforms, which could add pressure on their ability to scale beyond their preliminary success in one channel. Acquisition interest in direct-to-consumer brands may be muted until the point that we begin seeing breakouts that cross the $100 million revenue mark (for which these brands have to become successful omnichannel companies which is a path traditional brands and retailers know better than D2C brands)

5. Instagram shopping could challenge Amazon’s dominance in mobile

In the U.S., Instagram now has more than 100 million monthly active users, while Amazon’s app has a little more than 140 million monthly active users. With the buzz around direct-to-consumer brands that depend intensely on Instagram combined with Instagram’s intention to launch its own stand-alone app for shopping, we foresee that the platform could turn into the top choice for fashion retailers and brands.

6. Cross-border ecommerce may no longer be a choice.

We predict that top retail vendors in marketplaces like Amazon will consistently scale cross-border transactions, consequently further reinforcing Amazon as a destination for midsized brands. As stated by Reuters, in 2017, over a quarter of all revenue for merchants on Amazon around the globe originated from cross-border retail transactions, which is an upsurge of over 50% from 2016. We believe this implies that specialty ecommerce organizations should consider their cross-border retail strategies to remain pertinent even in markets where Amazon vendors in their category aren’t specifically present.

7. Social media platforms could become ecommerce platforms.

We think social media platforms offering native payment integrations for ecommerce could begin to rival platforms like Shopify. Instagram’s 1 billion active monthly users throughout the world and WhatsApp’s 1.5 billion give them unrivaled access to customers as of now. Native payment capabilities on these platforms could turn the tide against conventional ecommerce platforms.

8. Click and collect retail could come of age.

We anticipate that more retailers will offer a click and collect services instead of same-day shipping to help increase retail sales in 2019. With click and collect, they’re restricted just by space requirements at store locations that don’t have space for lockers or parking for vehicles where clients can collect the things they bought online. As the trade war between the U.S. and China raises, products and shipping in certain categories may wind up being pricier. One way retailers could get control over the escalating cost is by decreasing the reliance on last-mile shipping and rather motivate customers to collect from the stores. Target extended its click and collect service to about 1,000 stores by the end of 2018. Walmart already has curbside pickup programs at 1,800 of its retail stores and plans to expand to others soon.

9. Subscription commerce may continue to lose subscribers

Brand loyalty, price, and convenience are just a few of the reasons why shoppers sign up for subscriptions from their top retailers. About 40% of shoppers who use subscription services unsubscribe within a year as the novelty wears out and price and product locking with inflexible billing create buyer’s remorse. I think subscription companies that emphasis on replenishment (e.g., a monthly supply of detergent, meal kits) and large retailers with their own subscription services will likely encounter more noteworthy customer loyalty than upstart curation-themed subscription businesses.

10. The aisle could become more interactive.

We predict that the product experience in the retail store aisles will enhance with video and interactive product information displays that fix the online-to-offline retail sales experience. Retailers are realizing the value of the in-store experience, which we think will prompt expand budget plans for interactive in-aisle experience innovation like augmented reality and virtual reality.

We predict that 2019 could be the year of retail sales when the guarantee of the omnichannel customer experience could genuinely be met, thanks to hitherto buzzwords like AI, ML, computer vision, big data, AR and VR actually proving their business value. In case you’re a founder or a technology executive who’s been pondering when to delve into these top retail advancements, take that decisive dive. You have some real-world success stories to benchmark against.

Predictions by other industry experts:

Recycled fashion

Progressively, major brands from REI to Burberry, are following the lead of consignment shops and offering secondhand (or recycled) apparel as they pursue sustainability as well as more affordable fashion. Aldo Bensadoun, executive chairman and founder of the international shoe brand The Aldo Group Inc., anticipates that retailers should next dig into the acts of a circular economy across operations.

Brands will move beyond email

“Buyers are progressively overlooking email as a marketing channel, and that incorporates a retailer’s emailed coupons and different interchanges. Retailers will react by connecting with customers through their preferred messaging channels,” said Michael Cohen, general manager of Zero Gravity Labs, a Toronto-based innovation and experimentation group.

“Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, WeChat, iMessage Business Chat and Google Business Chat will all turn into the channels that help retailers take part in meaningful dialogue— or help consumers while email begins to take a secondary lounge,” he asserted. “That being stated, it is increasingly cozy and generally saved for companions, so businesses should change their methodology and tone appropriately.”

Checking out handily

Retail platforms have been trying to develop another technology that can bridge the standard checkout experience that exists between present self-checkout stations and the full-blown automated checkout technology being tested at Amazon Go to improve retail sales. There are differences of opinions about the outcomes of the self-checkout method. While the President and CEO of LoyaltyOne, Bryan Pearson said that his team’s cash is on store-branded self-checkout applications that empower customers to scan and purchase things as they shop,   Walmart has ended its self-checkout service after it failed to become a hit with customers. The service was popular at Sam’s Club, it but didn’t catch on with many Walmart shoppers, who found bagging, weighing and then scanning items confusing. A senior partner at retail consultants McMillan Doolittle said, “Even though scan-and-go technology has been around for some time, consumers still don’t seem to embrace it the way we anticipated.” Due to the split opinions of top retail industry experts, the jury is still out on whether cashier-less payments will catch on this year.

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Ashwin Ramasamy

Co-founder @ PipeCandy

Slips poor jokes & gets away with a poker face. Carries a no BS attitude at getting things done. First to arrive at the office, Ashwin’s energy does not ebb through the day. Ashwin is one of the co-founders and he sets the tone for marketing, sales, design & culture.