Top 10 Innovations in Retail Since 2000
The retail industry has undergone massive changes over the last 50 years with inventions like cash registers, shopping carts, coupons, credit cards, barcodes, and of course, ecommerce. This evolution has streamlined the shopping experience and improved the lives of consumers. For a quick walk down memory lane, check out my recent blog post, A Short History of Digital Commerce and Five Trends to Watch in the Next Decade, to learn more about the history of ecommerce.
In this blog post, I want to share my thoughts on the ten most impactful technologies to hit the retail industry in the last 20 years.
10. Voice Commerce
Time to do some shopping from your car. “I’m sorry Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.” For those of you who remember the movie, that’s what you might have heard back in 1968, when 2001: A Space Odyssey was released. Now, you can use Siri, Google, and Alexa to shop by voice—anywhere—including from your car. Websites are efficient for shopping, but they aren’t as natural as conversation. Although voice commerce is relatively new, it will continue to evolve. I believe that in just a few years, it will become second nature to most consumers.
9. Mixed Reality
Sometimes it’s tough to commit to a purchase based solely on a picture and description on a website. You can comb through tons of reviews and watch a video, but you’re still not confident enough to buy. That’s when mixed (augmented or virtual) reality can help you visualize the product, so you can be sure you’re making the right purchase. This concept has gotten a foothold with furniture and cosmetics. Although we’re still waiting for a strong impact in apparel, I believe we’ll see much more mixed reality soon.
Because consumers like choices, retailers have always offered products from many different vendors. However, at online marketplaces with endless aisles like Amazon, eBay, and Walmart, consumers can find even more options than at a typical retail store. With more robust fulfillment services, like buy online, pickup in store (BOPIS), it’s easier than ever for vendors to reach large audiences with little risk.
7. Livestream Commerce
Yes, shopping from your television has been around a long time, but livestream commerce is much more interactive. It’s entertainment and shopping delivered through your mobile phone, with very little friction. Although it’s still in its infancy in the West, it is table stakes in Asia, representing as much as 9% of China’s online sales. Even if livestream commerce never takes off in North America, I believe it still belongs on this top ten list.
6. Ratings and Reviews
There’s no question that online reviews influence customer purchase decisions. According to Qualtrics.com, “93% of consumers read online reviews before buying a product.” Accurate ratings and reviews are pretty standard now, but that wasn’t always the case. Originally, independent review websites, like Epinions, gave consumers an opportunity to post reviews, and then fake reviews became a thing. Reviewers are usually verified now, so there’s much more trust in reviews and ratings.
Amazon started recommending products on its site back in 1997, in the form of “people who bought this also bought this other product.” The retail industry has come a long way since then, adding bits of personalization from data mining and now machine learning throughout the purchase journey.
4. Fulfillment Robots
In 2013, when Jeff Bezos appeared on 60 Minutes and first discussed using drones to make deliveries, I never thought that would become a reality. But AI has come a long way, and if a Tesla can drive by itself, why can’t we use robots to deliver items on land or in the air? While autonomous deliveries aren’t widespread yet, I believe it’s only a matter of time before we see delivery robots all the time.
3. Checkout-free Shopping
If I had to name the most annoying thing about shopping, it’s checkout lines or queues. Self-checkout kiosks are nice, and scan-and-go solutions save time, too, but it’s hard to beat Just Walk Out shopping. Talk about removing friction! Although Just Walk Out and similar computer vision solutions might not be appropriate for every retailer, it sure can simplify the checkout process for many.
2. Click and Collect
In the early days of omnichannel retail (we called it “multi-channel” back then), if you found something you liked in the store but it wasn’t available in your size, the associate would check the company website and order the item for you with free delivery. Over time, we’ve optimized the process to work in both directions, and many retailers now use distributed order management software to make intelligent fulfillment decisions. By merging the digital and physical buying journeys, retailers have taken a huge leap forward to enhance the customer experience.
1. Fast, Free Shipping
When ecommerce first hit the retail scene two decades ago, websites had an advantage with lower prices, especially when the company didn’t have to add sales tax. However, shipping costs and a long delivery timeframe were big deterrents for many consumers. Free two-day shipping changed the paradigm and fueled the growth of ecommerce. It also established a new customer expectation for speedy delivery. Companies like Ocado, Fetch Robotics, and AWS have successfully used AI to automate and streamline many ecommerce processes.
Although retail is more an art than a science, technology plays a huge role in eliminating friction, reducing costs, and enhancing customer experiences. With an innovative spirit, AWS uncovers pain points by listening to customers and working backwards to find groundbreaking solutions.
Let me know if you agree with my top ten list or if you have a different opinion. I’d love to hear your thoughts, so be sure to leave a comment.
If you’re interested in any of these technologies, AWS is here to help. Contact your account team today to get started.