According to RSM UK, one of the top considerations for retailers this year is approaching the customer journey as a whole; from the first customer contact to purchase. As ecommerce technologies like virtual reality, geo-targeting and fingerprint authentication have matured (and expanded in scope), the retail industry is in a strong position to improve the shopping process for the customer (from browsing to checkout and beyond). Below are three key technologies retailers will be using to create the best possible user experience this year.

Virtually Removing Hurdles – Spatial, Physical – and International

Retailers are finally using virtual reality at a consumer level to make a more interactive ecommerce experience. For example, Alibaba’s Buy+ virtual shopping experience allows customers to interact with the products they were interested in with their phone and a headset – all in 3D. For product categories like home furnishings, customers get a better spatial understanding of a product before committing to the purchase and placing it in their home.

In the fashion industry, virtual changing rooms have become a reality, with some using three-dimensional scans of the actual customers. When shoppers browse clothing, they can now see exactly what an item would look like on them (length, fit, etc.) without visiting a physical store.

Another promising virtual shopping feature is the ability for users to virtually explore department stores around the world. From Macy’s in New York to Galleries Lafayette in Paris, users can shop in world-famous stores without venturing beyond the comfort of their own home. Brands looking to entice cross-border shopping can use this virtual shopping experience to build their brand identity and provide a unique end-to-end shopping experience.

Streamlining the Payment Process

 All that work falls by the wayside if you lose the customer at checkout. A recent study found that 83% of online shoppers abandon their purchases at checkout. But that’s not all. The study found that shoppers can be permanently turned off a brand after just one bad experience. Furthermore, they’re also less likely to visit any physical stores for brick & mortar retailers.

Frustration with payment options and payment processes are two of the three biggest reasons for abandoned purchases. Combined with the fact that a “simple checkout process” was the most important factor identified by customers, it’s clear that checkout processes need more focus than they are getting.

A big checkout issue that turns away shoppers, especially first time shoppers, is requiring registration prior to checking out (or put another way, a lack of a guest checkout process). By not providing a guest checkout, you’re getting in the way of your own success – essentially trading a closed sale for a chance at marketing for potential future sales. That’s not a good trade – period.

One technology improvement that can help make checkouts quicker, easier and more convenient, is streamlined mobile checkout options. The fingerprint confirmation for Apple Pay is being extended to Mobile commerce on the phone – and is also being expanded to new MacBooks that have biometric scanners, too.

Data shows that mobile commerce is used for more frequent, lower cost purchases like digital content, fast fashion or toys, while desktops are still used for purchases which require more research and consideration (i.e. computer hardware). A simple checkout process is then more valuable on a mobile device where the screen is small and filling in forms can be difficult.  When retailers look to implement Apple Pay, it is critical that it is available through the guest checkout, to help combat a major pain point for customers.

Location, Location, Location

 The merging of the online and offline shopping paradigms is increasingly a must-have, rather than a nice to have for retailers (even Alibaba and Amazon have started investing in physical locations).

Consumers expect to find the same products available online and in-store, and they want to be able to choose where they make their final purchase depending on factors like cost, urgency and delivery times.

As a result, retailers should create a singular experience that transcends the physical and virtual to provide the best possible shopping solutions, both online and in the real world. This impacts everything, from marketing messages to the storefront. Geotargeted messages use a customer’s location or simply their home address to make more personalised marketing messages that relate to where they are.  This allows more relevant product and store information to be added to communications.

An example would be inviting all customers within 20 miles of a new location to the grand opening event. Tying together real-time physical information with online interactions increases the value of each interaction / communication and improves the customer overall experience, going beyond just purchasing.

Keep Innovating

The best thing about technology trends in marketing and ecommerce is that there are always new tools and methodologies to raise the bar on customer experience. It will be interesting to see how UK retailers adopt these technologies and how consumers react to them, especially across the full shopping journey.

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