In the past decade, information technology has become a large part of a consumer’s decision-making process, especially when it comes to shopping and retail. They use the Internet to know more about a product or find alternatives before they finally decide to buy. They also expect a more personalized shopping experience, from communications like emails and text messages to the actual services they receive, whether they buy from online platforms or brick-and-mortar stores.
These are just a couple of ways that IT has transformed the retail landscape in general. But looking at specific facets of retail, there are a several developments from the IT industry that have changed and will continue to change the way people shop and sell. Here are just a few.
Big data, simply defined, is the vast amount of both unstructured and structured data that businesses amass from their customers on a daily basis. This gives retailers valuable insights into almost every facet of their customers’ shopping habits and preferences. Some of the information that can be gathered from consumers include how often and when they are most likely to shop, how much they are willing to spend and how much they spend on average, which payment options they use most often, and what kinds of ads they find appealing.
Having access to such information, retailers now have a vast pool of resources to help them fulfill the ever-changing demands of their customers. Coupled with sound data analytics and digital and offline strategies, businesses are now able to not just ride trends but even dictate these trends that would benefit both them and their customers.
Modern POS Systems
Gone are the days when a POS system is equivalent to a cash register, where the sale is “closed” and the shopper is asked to pay for their purchase using either cash, check, or credit. Today, there are various multi-functional POS systems that go beyond basic transaction management. Modern POS systems can now track inventory, manage promos and scale prices, generate reports, and even conduct basic accounting functions, among various other capabilities. These functions are valuable to retailers not just because they can save on costs but also because they can improve their operational efficiency and employee productivity. As with big data, the reports acquired from POS systems also provide retailers a good look into what does and doesn’t work when it comes to products and promotions, among others.
Augmented and Virtual Reality
While some people have completely embraced the comfort and convenience of online shopping, there are still those who enjoy visiting physical stores. Especially when the shopping experience has become more immersive with the help of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR). For example, an exercise equipment store can use VR to simulate the experience of running in a forest while you try a treadmill. Or perhaps a furniture and appliance store can help you create the look of your dream home with the help of AR. While both technologies have already been in use in the retail space for a few years, they are admittedly still in the experimentation phase. However, with the huge potential that they offer in terms of more immersive and experiential shopping, there is no way but forward with AR and VR in retail.
Smartphones and Smartphone Apps
Smartphones have had a big impact with how consumers interact and form connections with retailers, both in and out of the store. Together with various shopping applications and other related features, smartphones put consumers in a position of control (an important aspect for many), especially on what, how, and when they spend their money. Retailers can leverage these technologies to constantly keep in touch with their customers, not only to foster loyalty but also facilitate confidence. Smartphone applications can also be used to gather pertinent data from consumers, which can help retailers further enhance their quality of service.
Information technology is now ingrained deeply in our society; there simply is no escaping it. What every industry — including and perhaps especially retail — can do is to simply continue to adapt in order to harness the power of these technological developments to build business success.