Tech trends that will shape the future of retail

From online shopping to interactive physical stores and social commerce, Owen Clifford looks at the tech trends that are changing retail as we know it.

Many commentators believe that 2020 and 2021 will be seen in time to come as formative years in modern, 21st century retailing. Covid-19 disrupted the status quo and became the instigator and accelerator of change in a sector that needed to adapt both structurally and technologically.

Digitisation and the acceleration of technology will act as a catalyst for change across a range of areas within the retail sector. In a competitive market, Irish retailers will need to be proactive in exploring technology driven advancements and embedding same within their proposition. Digital advancement needs to be a key element within progressive retailers’ strategy and business plan to capitalise on evolving consumer trends and expectations.

Online shopping

Online retailing and services have found a new, wider audience over the past year whose discovery and adoption of this new way of shopping will become ingrained in their future routines. Retailers will need to ensure that they meet their customers’ expectations consistently and that this captive audience is retained. While technology has provided good solutions for the transactional aspects of online shopping (displaying products and payment platforms), in many cases it has failed to deliver a great experience. The online journey needs to be as frictionless as possible for the customer – eliminating out of stocks, efficient/flexible delivery and return options and personalisation of the offering for recurring customers, will all support enhanced customer acquisition and more importantly, retention.

Technological advancements will be an integral element in eroding these customer pain-points. Retailers will need to deliver a “New Retail” model, combining the best of digital and physical to produce a genuine, valuable omnichannel experience for the consumer. Carraig Donn and Elvery’s Sports are two prominent Irish retailers that have embedded a strong customer experience element within their online offering leading to high customer satisfaction and importantly repeat business/traffic to their website and stores.

Interactive physical stores

Immersive, “Instagrammable” experiences, a.k.a. “retailtainment,” can bring a retailer’s brand alive in a way that an online store can’t. Retailers are utilising an array of digital capabilities; virtual reality, interactive signage, brand messaging/video highlighting charitable causes and exclusive in-store discounts via loyalty apps when you enter the store, to drive customer engagement. Nike’s Time Square flagship store, for example, which has a basketball court with cameras to record shots and treadmills with screens mimicking famous running routes, has become a huge tourist attraction that boosts brand engagement and awareness.

Meanwhile, Marvel found a valuable promotional tool in their touring Avengers S.T.A.T.I.O.N., an immersive exhibit that has pulled in huge crowds all around the world. Through interactive displays and real-life movie props, the franchise invites fans to step into the cinematic world that’s delighted them for years. The newly launched Happy Pear installation within Supervalu Blackrock, Co Dublin demonstrates how a vibrant, in-store delivery can bring a brand to life and create a unique differentiation for a store in a competitive marketplace.

Social commerce

Providing a shopping outlet on a social media platform has become more prevalent and it offers shoppers an even more seamless way to shop online. Instead of clicking through to a third-party website, users can make purchases right from the social media app or website. This is referred to as “social commerce “and it is a growing trend.

In 2020 alone, TikTok developed a partnership with Shopify, Snapchat expanded its Native Stores for brands and Facebook Stores was released to the market.

Irish athleisure brand Gym+Coffee have grown their brand significantly through clever use of social media and connecting with the societal issues (sustainability, healthy living etc.) that matter to their core target market.

These insights were published as part of a Bank of Ireland Sectors report on the Acceleration of Technology. Full report:

Bank of Ireland Sectors report on the Acceleration of Technology
Owen Clifford
Owen Clifford is head of Retail at Bank of Ireland.