Ignore at your own peril

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It’s now nearly March. Fourth-quarter trials and tribulations are a memory, Retail’s Big Show is in the rearview mirror and, for most, the ink is drying on annual financial reports. Now it’s time for executives to turn their attention to future tech investments.

After spending hours listening to presentations and trying to distill which tools are likely to have the most positive impact in the coming months, I’ve come up with a short list of technologies that should make the cut.

Artificial intelligence: Retailers who have already started down this path are ahead of the game, while those who thought it was more hype than substance are playing catch-up. AI technology takes subjectivity out of the equation and delivers better decisions by finding insights within the reams of big data. Retailers need the power of AI to deliver on the promise of personalization and customization.

And, importantly, AI is the springboard for improving the customer experience, playing a role in everything from the Internet of Things to facial recognition. To describe AI as pervasive would be an understatement; it is being applied across the retail enterprise and has the potential to be the quintessential game changer.

Conversational commerce: Mobile is the remote control for consumers and no one expects that to change anytime soon. But if retailers aren’t experimenting with the voice user interface, they will miss out on the next big thing. Conversational commerce is carving a niche in the omnichannel experience; a recent survey found that once people use a voice interface device, nearly two-thirds say they won’t go back to life without it.

And voice is not just about Alexa and Google. More key players are tossing their hats in the ring; voice is being used for everything from turning on lights and thermostats to changing channels and asking for assistance while driving. Shoppers scooped up these devices during the 2017 holiday season. How many will be used to shop during the 2018 holidays?

Radio frequency identification: Think about some of the retail winners this past holiday season. Most have RFID in common. Though hardly new, RFID has clearly hit its stride — and for the companies that are tagging products and have an accurate view of inventory, it’s a positive differentiator.

Item-level RFID deployments consistently generate sales gains of 10 percent and higher and as retailers become more proficient at using the technology for inventory management, they’re also starting to see the viability of a broader range of applications, including “magic” mirrors and other customer-facing selling tools. Retailers can layer on all the technologies they want with an eye toward improving the customer experience, but it’s all for naught if they don’t know what they have in inventory and where that inventory is. RFID delivers intelligence from manufacturing through distribution and from the warehouse to the stores.

There are plenty of exciting new technologies in retail. I love to see the newest whiz- bang solutions and dream of what might be. Still, it’s fair to say: Ignore the technologies discussed at your own peril.

Follow @Susan_Reda and #STORESMag on Twitter for retail news and trends.

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