The holiday season is here again. With it comes retail's busiest time of the year and an opportunity to look at how technology is affecting the retail industry now and what's to come next year. Some high-profile 2015 predictions, including the explosive growth of beacons and widespread adoption of mobile payments spurred by Apple Pay, failed to materialize at scale. However, other trends such as social shopping and the proliferation of omnichannel options have evolved and gained traction along with the rapid adoption of mobile.
I believe that we are just in the very early stages of an extensive period of change in retail tech. Retailers are only now beginning to embrace the opportunities and understand the challenges of mobile. Consumer expectations are also evolving quickly, putting tremendous pressure on retailers to engage shoppers and employees in historically unfamiliar ways.
The pace of innovation and change will accelerate in 2016, and here are five of the most important trends that I feel will have a significant impact on the retail industry in the coming year.
1. Big Box Retail Gets (More) Local
Big box retailers are slowly moving away from chain-wide marketing and merchandising and allocating an increasing amount of floor space and presentation based on a store's geographic location. With this more localized perspective, a retailer can spotlight local, favorite brands, and also source more products locally. This more localized approach requires the retailer to reconsider digital discovery alongside in-store experiences, as retailers learn to more effectively leverage 1:1 marketing strategies. Stores can also utilize advanced technologies to modernize the customer experience and bolster the back-of-house infrastructure with analytics, product location, sales and CRM systems for inventory management, personnel management and more. As a result, shoppers will expect a richer, more convenient and more personalized shopping experience from both the online and brick-and-mortar stores they frequent.
2. Beacons Come of Age
Ever since Apple announced iBeacons in 2013, we've seen a lot of hype around beacons in retail. Growth of user experiences leveraging beacons to enhance the in-store shopping experience has been slower than anticipated, with a handful of retailers focusing on small-scale pilots. Target, for example, has been testing beacons by serving up real-time relevant deals and recommendations for nearby products in 50 store locations nationwide. With big-box retailers beginning to adopt this tech, we can expect pilot programs to graduate to chain-wide deployments in the coming year, moving spend from experimental budgets to full-blown in-store marketing tech budgets. As beacons become more widely integrated into retail stores, retailers must be able to quickly and seamlessly scale back-office analytics, so they can capture necessary information to target shoppers and augment the user experience.
3. Retail Will Get Personal, For Both Shoppers and Employees
Since each shopper's needs vary, stores must consider a number of factors holistically when connecting with shoppers on each individual trip. Smart retailers won't have to rely on personally identifiable or account data to personalize the experience for their shoppers. Available information including location, search terms, keywords selected, items on a shopping list, and local store popularity can be powerful indicators of opportunities for personalization. Retailers that are able to best leverage mobile awareness to inform their personalization strategy will have a significant advantage over competitors.
Retailers will also embrace technology to inform and empower store employees. Associates with mobile applications have immediate access to store and product information to help shoppers in-store from their very first shift, increasing the confidence of the employee and efficiency for the retailer. According to Harvard Business Review, retailers can use mobile or retailer-specific apps to elicit customer feedback on interactions with sales associates, using the data to rate employee performance. By making this data transparent to employees, retailers can help optimize performance and identify any stores or departments that need to improve customer service, helping retailers to quickly course-correct.
4. Omnichannel is Here, and Expanding
Forrester Research predicts mobile will influence approximately $1 trillion in spending this year for U.S. brick-and-mortar retailers. Retailers have long realized that establishing an omnichannel presence is necessary to bridge the digital and physical divide. In 2016, retailers will invest heavily across each channel to create seamless experiences to meet shopper demand as they engage with retailers across multiple touchpoints. Areas that will continue to gain momentum include ship from store options and Buy-Online-Pickup-In-Store (BOPUS) services. Deloitte's 2015 holiday retail survey indicated BOPUS is growing rapidly, with 43 percent of respondents saying they're likely to BOPUS this holiday season to save time and to avoid the holiday shopping rush.
5. Retailers Will Crack the Mobile Monetization Code
As brands look to increase product awareness and engagement, retailers' mobile platforms will present new opportunities to engage shoppers who use smartphones to search for specific products to purchase. Brands will desire to reach highly targeted retail audiences through mobile. By integrating paid search options into their mobile search engines, retailers will unlock new revenue streams while providing an enhanced experience for shoppers and a hyper-targeted advertising opportunity for brands. Just as Google AdWords helped monetize search online, paid search options in retail apps and on mobile web will help monetize in-store search and reach shoppers just before the point of purchase.
2016 will bring about tremendous change, as shoppers demand more interactive store experiences. In our increasingly connected world, retailers that wish to remain relevant in the New Year will need to rethink their overall user experience as people browse online, navigate within a store's mobile app or walk through a physical store environment. A multifaceted approach that blends personalization with convenience will win out in 2016. Are you ready?
Josh Marti is the CEO and co-founder of Seattle-based Point Inside, the worldwide leader in in-store SaaS for mobile shopper engagement. Top retailers like Target, Lowe's, and Meijer drive billions in mobile influenced in-store sales using Point Inside's StoreMode™ platform. Every day, Point Inside processes billions of retail data points to deliver brick-and-mortar shoppers search, product mapping and personalized recommendations specific to their local store. Considered an expert in wireless location-based services, Marti was responsible for several of Qualcomm's largest gpsOne deployments prior to co-founding Point Inside in 2009. Voted a Seattle "40 Under 40" honoree in 2012, he holds a bachelor's of science in electrical engineering from Seattle University and sits on its EE & CE Advisory Board.