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Top 10 retail technology stories of 2023

Computer Weekly looks at what 2023 had in store for the retail industry – a year of financial uncertainty and increasing cost of living has made consumers ever more demanding, so how are retailers using tech to cope?

Since the dawn of retail, customers have been making demands of stores and service providers – we have all heard the common phrase “the customer is always right”.

This year has seen prices rise and the cost of living increase, making consumers more unpredictable when it comes to where they choose to shop and what they are shopping for.

So how has technology played into the retail landscape over the past year as both consumers and retailers move further into the omnichannel arena?

1. Top trends in tech, and retail’s early adopters

We began the year by looking at some of the most discussed tech trends in the retail space, highlighting some of the retailers adopting these technologies.

These trends show a mix of technologies aiding retailers’ online and physical offerings, including artificial intelligence (AI), connectivity, cloud and immersive reality.

2. Augmented reality in retail: The second coming

When tech innovation in retail is mentioned, augmented reality (AR) isn’t the first to spring to mind, but many retailers have been experimenting with apps that show users what furniture will look like in their home or what cosmetics would look like on their faces.

We took a deep-dive into some of the retailers that have turned trials into actual features, and what these retailers are using the technology for.

3. Retail tech transformation: Winning boardroom hearts and minds

Part and parcel of tech adoption and transformation is convincing those higher up in the organisation, including the board, to give the go-ahead.

Explaining things in terms people outside the tech team can understand and proving the value of a transformation project are just some of the challenges those in tech may face when seeking leadership buy-in.

We shared some of the advice given by industry experts to help get tech transformation moving in retail businesses.

4. Interview: Matt Grest, CIO, Very Group

Since the pandemic, the way people work has changed, and retailers are no exception to this rule. Many more people are working from home, and firms need to have the technology and processes in place to support this.

In this interview, Very Group CIO Matt Grest explains how his team adapted to lockdown, and how the protocol for working from home has changed as people’s wants and needs have evolved.

5. Retailers and customers alike open to AI, but calls for caution

Technology has many use cases in the modern world, but just because you can apply technology to a situation doesn’t mean you should. AI has been by far the most talked about technology over the past year, and it has many excellent uses, especially in retail – from helpful chatbots to inventory management technologies.

But there are also many concerns when it comes to the widespread use of AI. We shared some of the ways in which retail businesses plan to use the technology, as well as allaying customers fears about AI having gone too far.

6. Online sales suffer as consumers hit shops for bargains

The web has been steadily growing as a retail channel over the past few years, with online sales exploding during the pandemic as everyone was forced to navigate their lives from home.

April of this year saw online sales make up a quarter of all retail sales for three months in a row, but that didn’t stop the cost-of-living crisis from affecting consumer behaviour.

Customers have been migrating back to physical stores to ensure a good deal as prices surge, especially as many bargain stores do not have an online presence.

7. Consumers want tech-driven clothing stores

With customers back in physical stores, they are seeking a better experience when it comes to visiting shops.

Many want a reason to visit a location, and would be open to the idea of clothing stores driven by technology – including personalisation, contactless payment and immersive experiences.

This trend has been ongoing for the past five or more years, with physical stores turning to technology to create a meaningful experience that consumers consider is worth visiting a shop for.

8. Delivery charges and slow payments have customers abandoning baskets

If there was ever an indication of consumers growing increasingly demanding and selective, it’s the abandonment of the retail basket.

Research from Primer found almost 40% of online shopping carts are being abandoned, in some cases because of bad payment experiences.

But one of the biggest points of contention for customers is delivery charges, with 46% of customers saying this is a problem for them when shopping online.

9. Where tech can smooth out the retail returns process

As well as delivery fees, a difficult returns process can put consumers off online shopping, especially where some customers prefer to order several sizes of the same garment, try them on at home, then return those that don’t fit.

We look into how some retailers are using technology to streamline the returns process in a world where so many retailers are now having to charge for returns because of the cost of managing them.

10. Interview: Paul Cooper, director of technology operations, River Island

A focus on the physical store was a theme throughout 2023 as customers returned to physical shopping, both following the easing of pandemic restrictions and through the desire to find a good deal.

Paul Cooper, director of technology operations at River Island, explained how the brand has been using technology to overhaul its stores, sparked by the use of technology for better communication during Covid-19 lockdowns.

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