Retail IoT: Shoppers demand AI, VR, and a better fit online

Retail IoT: Shoppers demand AI, VR, and a better fit online

Smart choices: Consumers want closer integration between online and in-store shopping experiences, according to a new survey published today.

The Future of Retail report explores the attitudes of over 2,000 UK shoppers. It reveals a clear demand for increased integration between online and in-store channels – not only in the shopping experience itself, but also in the personal data collected at each point.

The findings reveal that IoT applications and connected experiences could be a smart investment for many retailers, especially those in the hyper-competitive fashion sector.

So how do the figures add up for omnichannel retail?

Attractive figures

Nearly half of respondents (48 percent) want retailers to let them see how an outfit might look on them virtually – whether online or in store – while over one-quarter said they would buy more if this facility was available to them via virtual or augmented reality (AR or VR) systems.

Twenty-five percent of shoppers would be willing to upload a photo to a retailer’s website to achieve this, while 23 percent would prefer to use digital mirrors or virtual changing rooms in stores, where items could be digitally added to their reflections or onscreen images.

The report arrives as several retailers, including fashion brands Mango and Nieman Marcus, are exploring a range of new IoT technologies, including AR, digital mirrors and fitting rooms, and smart-watch applications that link to supply chain and shop-floor management processes.

Digital mirror technologies can also be used to upsell accessories and complementary items. Meanwhile, other fashion brands, such as designer John Varvatos, are investing in AI and machine learning technologies to help shoppers find the ideal outfits online.  

Not an easy fit

However, some of the survey results may alarm any retailers who believe that a simple trawl for data is all it takes to bring them closer to customers. For example, only six percent of consumers believe that online shopping is improved by shops recommending items based on previous purchases.

The finding that 94 percent of shoppers are unimpressed by recommendations challenges the assumption that AI and machine learning technologies will always deepen the supplier/customer relationship.

However, just over one-quarter of shoppers (28 percent) would be willing to deepen the relationship in another way: by granting their favourite brands full access to their social media profiles, opening the door to a potential data goldmine.

Slightly more, 30 percent, would like to see their in-store purchases added to their online profiles to create a single view of their shopping habits: the Holy Grail of omnichannel retail.

The survey reveals that while many retailers are struggling in the UK, US, and Europe, in-store shopping remains a powerful force. This is largely because of the opportunity to experience the look and feel of a product.

However, this demonstrates that many fashion-conscious shoppers would use digital channels more if retailers offered a better idea of how clothes would look with the shopper wearing them. Even though 93 percent of respondents had ordered a product of some kind online within the last month, 43 percent claimed to still buy all of their clothing in-store.

The survey provides another intriguing – and valuable insight: many shoppers prefer online retail because it is more private – and adventurous – than trying on clothes in public. One-fifth of shoppers said they felt uncomfortable getting undressed in a public space, while ten per cent said they felt “judged” by staff in store.

The report was published by InternetRetailing EXPO.

Internet of Business says

The survey provides a useful snapshot of shopping habits, and reveals that connected technologies demand joined-up thinking by business strategists.

Trust and transparency will be the key in the omnichannel age. This is especially true in fashion retail, where consumer behaviour is a unique mix of the adventurous and the private. And that’s because it goes right to the heart of something important: personal identity.

Being responsible data guardians will be critical in this hyper-competitive space. As will something else: honesty.

Most shoppers are aware that clothes are pinned to store-window dummies to make them fit as perfectly as possible. But virtual technologies may have to do the opposite: reveal how clothes will actually look on the wearer.

In retail, digital experiences will fail if the real world fails to live up to the pixels.

Read more: Retail IoT: Why Vodafone’s digital fitting rooms are a good fit for Mango

Read more: Amazon Go store previews the future of retail in Seattle

Read more: Reuters’ AR & VR visions revealed

 

Chris Middleton
Chris Middleton is former editor of Internet of Business, and now a key contributor to the title. He specialises in robotics, AI, the IoT, blockchain, and technology strategy. He is also former editor of Computing, Computer Business Review, and Professional Outsourcing, among others, and is a contributing editor to Diginomica, Computing, and Hack & Craft News. Over the years, he has also written for Computer Weekly, The Guardian, The Times, PC World, I-CIO, V3, The Inquirer, and Blockchain News, among many others. He is an acknowledged robotics expert who has appeared on BBC TV and radio, ITN, and Talk Radio, and is probably the only tech journalist in the UK to own a number of humanoid robots, which he hires out to events, exhibitions, universities, and schools. Chris has also chaired conferences on robotics, AI, IoT investment, digital marketing, blockchain, and space technologies, and has spoken at numerous other events.