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Looking sharp: why the future of retail is hybrid

The way we buy goods and services has changed forever with the introduction of innovative technologies and social media platforms, designed to take customers from their initial curiosity right through to purchase. 

SEE ALSO : How are retailers in Asia making the shift from resilience to innovation?

With the impact of the pandemic still being felt, it is unlikely we will see a shift back to ‘old school’ shopping any time soon. eMarketer’s global research found that online retail sales are set to reach USD 6.17 trillion by 2023, with e-commerce websites accounting for 22.3 percent of overall retail sales globally. Within Asia Pacific, e-commerce has become one of the fastest-growing retail sectors, not only surviving but also thriving amid COVID lockdowns. According to AARKI’s research, APAC’s e-commerce is predicted to increase at an 8.2 percent annual rate between 2020 and 2025. This is much higher than predicted growth for e-commerce in the United States and Europe, which are 5.1 percent and 5.2 percent, respectively.

To mitigate pandemic disruption, many retailers have moved quickly to create hybrid retail experiences, ramping up e-commerce and digital investments in innovative technologies like video to better support customers and maintain those all-important employee connections.

And, perhaps not surprisingly, employees and customers are enjoying the hybrid retail experience and for many there is no going back. So, what does the future of retail hold as we lean forward to the future?

Retailers should look for ‘technology that disappears’

As retail is a highly visual industry, it is no surprise that modern collaboration technology is moving up the priority list as demand for seamless and people intuitive collaboration solutions continue to grow. As evidenced through the pandemic, one of the most popular of these has been without a doubt video technology as it allows people to have greater communication and people to people connections. Hugely important for a customer facing industry like retail, that is also highly competitive.

Modern video technology must go beyond the basics of video and sound, tapping into new technologies like artificial intelligence, data, and analytics to understand the spaces its devices are in and empower collaboration in whole new ways including video framing, audio optimisation and monitoring air quality.

I believe that the best video experiences should be seamless and naturally blend in with their meeting environment, effectively making the technology ‘disappear’. By this I mean that we really do not want people to have to waste time thinking about their video technology, we want them to focus on each other, their interaction and collaboration. 

One of the positives coming out of the last eighteen months has been the creativity and innovative ways that retailers are using video to their advantage – to delight customers and build stronger human connections within their own teams. Below is an example from Australian fashion retailer, Incu.

Source : Shutterstock

Customer Success: Australian Fashion Retailer Incu Puts its People First  

Incu, a major high-end Australian fashion retailer originally sought out video technology to help them manage their hybrid retail approach which included the need to create a stronger sense of community among their dispersed team during lockdowns. 

With 13 locations, 190 workers, and a worldwide range of suppliers, the Incu team had been struggling with ‘old school video’ issues including echoing laptops and limited microphone range. This made it challenging for their team to get the job done.

To provide context, Doug Low, Incu CEO said, “It is very challenging to buy clothing remotely, because a blue shirt looks like every single other blue shirt over a screen. You cannot tell what it fits like. You cannot tell what the materials are like. It is a very tactile experience. But it is made a lot better if the sound and picture work seamlessly – and it is a lot easier to focus on the conversation when you are not fiddling around with things that are not working correctly.” 

The Incu team was initially sceptical about how incorporating video technology would work, because they had a poor audio experience with a previous solution. During the virtual demonstration, they literally made one of the video sales team face a wall and whisper over the camera to check how well the microphones picked up voices if people were moving around the room. 

“But using the Neat Bar ticked every box for the Incu team to bring its people together.” Doug explains, “It feels like our team on screen are in the same room now, versus before, when you almost felt like an outsider observing. Now everyone can participate in meetings.”

He continues, “Our Incu meeting style is inclusive and all about getting to the ideas. We love to discuss and let conversation flow, rather than have a strict agenda which can be off-putting for new team members. We do this because something great will come up organically that we had not originally thought about. It is important for us that everyone in the meeting can be heard.”

The video devices selected also supported Incu when working with US fashion brand Rag and Bone, and their architects, on the design of a new Australian Rag and Bone store. Using video made it that much easier to review architectural designs, renders and floor plans. 

So, what does the future hold for video technology in retail?

A recent Shopify Study found online businesses are growing daily with an estimated 12–24 million e-commerce sites globally. This means more brands fighting for customers and wallets. As a result, retailers are looking for ways to build long term connections with customers, offer seamless and meaningful online shopping experiences, and develop their brand beyond their location of origin. On top of this, I believe it is become even more important to have strong internal teams able to collaborate from anywhere and support their employers’ growth aspirations.

SEE ALSO : How Japanese brands showcase the ‘middle way’ between physical and digital?

Modern video technology solutions are proving the role they can play in growing and sustaining employee workplace cultures while also enhancing the customer experience, helping retailers make their next chapter an even more exciting and visual one. 

Author : Liam Panizzon, Head of Asia Pacific, Neat

*Disclaimer: The views and opinion expressed in the article belong solely to the original author and do not represent the views, opinions and position of Retail in Asia.