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An inside look at retail’s virtual future: holograms, AI & iBeacon’s

A leading retail expert has predicted what’s next for the future of retail in AI and technology ahead of an event that will showcase the latest technologies.

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The integration of digital technology in physical stores, including the rise of do-it-yourself checkouts, the use of advanced predictive analytics for personalised recommendations and the use of customer-fronting holograms are all in store for the next few years, Associate Professor Gary Mortimer, a leading retail expert at QUT, told Retailbiz.

The prediction comes just days ahead of the Retail.NXT event, where retail leaders will converge on Thursday to predict the future of retail AI and tech and to explore strategies and tips for embracing and adapting to the constant changes with technology.

Professor Mortimer says that the integration of physical and digital offering instore is a trend which will continue into the future.

Technology like Apple’s iBeacon’s – software which allows mobile apps to listen for signals in the real world and deliver hyper-contextual content to users based on this location – will continue to shape the industry, Professor Mortimer says.

“These type of beacons are located throughout stores and that enables retailers to crack where are in a store and push personalised offers directly to your phone.”

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Other technology which promotes “ultra-convenience” through the integration of technology and in-store services, such as Dan Murphy’s click and collect service – which sends a push notification to the store once a customer who has purchased online has driven into the store, will also continue to emerge, Professor Mortimer says.

Advanced data-science will transform the marketing landscape and drive personalised product recommendations in-store, Professor Mortimer says.

Innovations like Woolworths’ new Woollies X division, in which Woolworths is drawing together data science machine learning engineers and AI specialists to look at underlying patterns of behaviour to inform marketing and predictive purchasing, will also shape the sector.

Augmented reality

Forward-facing holograms will also continue to emerge in the next few years, integrating augmented reality into physical stores and completely transforming the customer experience, Professor Mortimer says.

“We’ll also see stuff around holograms particularly in the frontline service environment and I know for instance in the Commonwealth Bank retail centre near Darling Harbour in Sydney they’re playing with holograms so we’ll start to see more stuff happen in the service area.”

Meanwhile, gamification will revolutionise the customer experience – seeing the integration of augmented reality into physical retail stores.

“For example, standing in a grocery aisle looking through your camera phone at an aisle and particular offers spring out specific to you and your shopping behaviour.”

Do-it-yourself checkouts, like those at Woolworths and Coles, will also roll-out at a transformational scale, Professor Mortimer says.

Bracing yourself for the revolution

There are two critical things that retailers can do to equip themselves for these future changes, Professor Mortimer says.

Firstly, having a digital offering of some sort is absolutely essential – whether that be a loyalty program, leveraging data or e-commerce platforms.

“Whether they’re big or small, retailers need to have a digital offering. Whether that’s some form of transactional online platform or whether it’s an informational platform like an EDM or newsletter that gives shoppers information. They need to have some form of loyalty program, and capture that data and interrogate it,” he says.

But if this isn’t possible, creating an original customer experience is equally as important.

“If you can’t claim in the digital space you really need to focus on creating positive, relevant customer experiences. One retailer that stands out here would be Lululemon, who offer in-store yoga, run clubs, it’s about community,” he says.

The forecast comes ahead of the Retail.NXT event on Thursday, which will showcase world-leading retail technologies including robots like Pepper – a customer engagement robot, a 3D printer and large-scale drones, amongst other emerging retail technology set to transform the sector’s future.