Future innovations in online retail

October 4, 2014

As technology continues to evolve to keep up with trends and innovations, consumers may see features and options they never could have imagined.

Online retail is constantly changing in the face of consumer demands. With the advent of smartphones and tablets, shopper experiences have been dramatically changed. Technology now enables consumers to shop anywhere, follow certain brands or retailers online and make purchases faster than previously before. As technology continues to evolve to keep up with trends and innovations, consumers may see features and options they never could have imagined. 

New technology to navigate retailer websites
It is possible that in the near future voice recognition will be used to navigate websites. Imagine sitting at home, talking to your computer screen and saying, “No. Show me the red one.” The same will apply to smartphones and tablets. Google already allows for voice-directed search in its Chrome web browser. Taking it one step further to automate sites with voice recognition could be the next big innovation. As online shopping draws closer towards uniformity with shopping in physical stores, in terms of options and ease-of-use, voice recognition fits perfectly with the direction the industry is going.

Predictive personalization is another technology feature that we are beginning to see online.  Forbes recently reported on a teenage girl’s father who learned of his daughter’s pregnancy before she told him because of this technology. Apparently, women who are in the beginning of their third trimester of pregnancy often buy unscented lotion and supplements like magnesium and zinc. Target’s system was able to deduce that these purchases meant a baby was on the way. As a result, the teenage girl began receiving offers from Target for maternity-related items. Her father was angered and went to Target demanding to know why the retailer was encouraging his daughter to get pregnant.

Invasion of privacy or convenience?
While privacy is a concern that should be addressed, it is interesting to witness a clear example of retailer technology analyzing information and suggesting items before a consumer asks for them. A different scenario of predictive personalization could be considered advantageous. A person who is researching certain topics for professional purposes for example may not come across a helpful book or video unless search criteria is analyzed to look for trends. It may be a touchy subject, but perhaps if used properly, it can lead to helpful innovation down the road.

Another trend that we are beginning to see online is the monetization of search criteria. If retailers can’t make money from visitors to their site, maybe the next best option is directing customers to other retailers, for a fee. Often at stores if a person is looking for an item that cannot be found in a particular store, the salesperson will recommend going to other stores. While certainly no money is made on those referrals, it does build a good rapport with the client. A customer who is told by a salesperson at retailer X that they should go to retailer Y will leave believing that the staff is honest and helpful. That builds goodwill – which is valuable.

Online, the same actions may result in the same goodwill, but each referral can also be worth a small amount of money. It is a given that not every store has what a consumer is looking for. The question seems to be: is a chance to send a customer to a competitor site and earn a small fee better than not making money at all?

Ultimately, developing customer loyalty is important. Enabling voice recognition, recognizing customer trends, recommending items, and directing customers to to other sites builds on the relationship between retailer and consumer. According to a survey by MultiChannelMerchant, 65 percent of shoppers are willing to share data with retailers if they receive a benefit. This indicates that the majority of shoppers would accept having more personalized shopping experience online. A retailer website that knows your preferences, that you can talk to, might be what personalization will look like in the future.

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