How Digital Technology is Changing the Retail World

February 6, 2012, 1:47 pm by

Technology is revolutionizing the retail landscape.

Over the past decade, we have seen digital and online shopping enter our lives and become a widely accepted norm. We have seen shopping go mobile and social. We have seen creative technology implementations in retail stores. And, with this growing use and acceptance, retailers have continued to push barriers with creativity, technology integrations and platforms. The digital shopping experience continues to expand throughout our lives. Here are a few trends we are watching.

The Year of the Tablet

At least 12 percent of Internet users own a tablet today, and that number is expected to increase to 33 percent by 2015. Furthermore, tablets account for nearly half of all mobile traffic for a typical retail site. The number and quality of shopping apps offered on tablets exceeds any other outlet. Google’s Catalogs app, for example, provides a rich, interactive shopping experience by aggregating the catalogs of major brands into one app, where you can explore product views, videos, details, pricing, and more. The app also offers a social component similar to Polyvore, where you can create collages of your favorite products to share with friends.

Retailers are slowly beginning to jump on the bandwagon. This fall, both Macy’s and Bloomingdales experimented with the technology in-store by providing tablets to their sales team to help customers with make-up and fine jewelry selections, show product details, and offer competitive pricing. The same two stores have also begun providing tablets to furniture delivery associates. Hyundai paired the sale of their 2011 Equus with a tablet fully loaded as a user’s manual that could also be used to schedule service appointments.

More portable than a standard laptop, and with larger screens and better visuals than a smartphone, tablets are the perfect medium for digital shopping. Brands that neglect to acknowledge the trend will surely miss out on a growing trend.

Virtual Stores

Last summer a South Korean supermarket, Tesco, created a virtual grocery store in a subway station by using product images and QR codes. The idea was brilliant, and now it seems to have spread to the US.

For this past holiday season, Sears and Kmart launched what they call mobile “shopping walls.” The walls feature a selection of the brand’s most popular toys (QR codes and all) and can be found at airports, malls, and bus stations across the nation. Ebay likewise paired with Toys for Tots, but went in a more interactive direction. Their “Give-A-Toy Store” in NYC and San Francisco replaced window displays with a digital wall that came to life as people scanned the QR codes. Not only was it adorable, but the proceeds benefited Toys for Tots.

Virtual stores and shopping walls such as these are a great way to make shopping even easier for the customer. Marrying the immediacy of a live store with the convenience of an online check-out (no lines, no security tags!), they surely take the best from both worlds.

A New Way to Pay

First we bartered with goats and wheat, then we created tangible currency, and now, we have Square. Square is… well, it’s a square. To be more precise it’s a square credit card reader about the size of a quarter that you can stick into the headphone jack of any iPhone/iPad/Android with a design so simple it looks like it was produced by Apple. You plug it in, swipe your card, and it directly deposits the decided amount into your bank account.

Square offers users a single rate of 2.75% per swipe for all major credit cards, which simplifies the complicated credit card deals many businesses have today.

A few months ago PayPal released a preview of what the future of money could look like if mobile retail keeps moving the way it does. The project proposes countless services: geo-targeted mobile advertising, bar-code scanning, local and real-time inventory searches, mobile and point-of-sale payments, a virtual wallet, and more. It proves to be pretty ambitious… will PayPal users really have the option of ordering coffee from their car dashboard? Only time will tell. The hype video is an exciting vision for how we could shop in the future.

While Square benefits mostly small businesses, Facebook is focused on the individual. Their partnership with PayPal culminates in a new app, transparently named “Send Money,” that allows you to send money to your Facebook friends. You have the option to include a virtual greeting card customized “for that personal touch.” As of now these cards are for special occasions, holidays, and the like (your typical Hallmark categories) but the format lends itself to possibility. Perhaps brands can get in on the partnership to design their own cards that encourage consumers to “send a snowboard to your friend!” or “give the gift of cashmere gloves this Valentine’s Day,” while assigning a respective amount so said friend can purchase the product. And while this is one product that PayPal has launched to make our lives a little easier, the company has even more in the works.

How do you feel about all of the digital changes being made in the retail world?