It is that time of year, when we look back and look forward, to see what has happened in retail tech and predict what might be important in the coming months. Here are my top ten choices and leading trends.
- Mobile and digital currencies will continue to increase. Payment options such as PayPal, Apple Pay and Bitcoin will become more mainstream, allowing consumers to use digital currencies to pay for more things. If you haven’t set up any of these technologies, now is the time to learn more about them.
- The iPad becomes the cash register. With the popularity of Apple’s iPad, more vendors are developing iOS-optimized versions of their traditional point of sale solutions. And the iPad-as-register will become more popular, even for smaller stores. VARs should bone up on the leading vendors in this space.
- Ordering ahead for in-store pickups. Target has had this for years, but it is becoming popular even for smaller retailers too. It should become the norm in the coming year. Customers don’t like waiting in line, and this is a nice convenience.
- “If you liked this, you will want to buy that.” Cross-selling has also become mainstream, thanks to early pioneering efforts from Amazon and other online retailers. Now in-store staff is doing this with in-person promotions. The trick is to do in a way to not annoy customers and drive them out without buying anything. It isn’t so much tech, but an after-effect of having the matching and suggestion online engine.
- The website will become even more of a digital hub. Stores that don’t have solid websites will suffer in 2015. Today’s website – and tomorrow’s – will have a quick way to find the closest store, peruse inventory, order online and have it delivered, send questions or comments to management, and download their latest smartphone app. And offer up exceptional user experience too. If you have neglected this side of your business, now is the time to get more involved.
- Expect to see more digital-based loyalty programs. Consumers are tired of carrying the cardboard or plastic rewards cards and looking for digital solutions, especially those like Starbucks that can turn into mobile payment apps.
- Social media campaign management tools are getting better, by necessity. Hybrid physical/online marketing will become more important in 2015, mixing both in-store and online deals. If you haven’t tried out any of the more than 100 different tools that are available in this space, now is the time to take a closer look and have your recommendations ready for when your clients need trusted advice.
- Mobile apps are becoming the major e-commerce vector. As we said in our column in June, Provide something unique for your store’s mobile app, or else build it into the overall general website and ensure that a mobile browser can view your pages quickly and responsively.
- Look towards the restaurant sector as a leading indicator of what’s in store for the rest of retail. Restaurant chains are slowly learning how to use connected technology to attract customers, deliver better customer digital experiences, and convince customers to return again and again. Unlike other online retail outlets, you can’t download your dinner, so the opportunity cost is huge for them to get their digital act together. Most of the lessons learned by restaurant chains—from both their successes and their mistakes—can be applied to other retail segments. For example, tablets are being used by waitstaff to track orders and by customers to play games and pay for their checks.
- Think about developing a total customer engagement platform for your clients, as we wrote about how 7-Eleven did this in the past year. These will help cement the VAR-client relationship too.