Drawn into the clothing section, smart mirrors gave them the option to virtually try on different outfits — mixing and matching, changing colours — plus the option to share their looks with friends for their opinions.

Casually tapping their smartphone at the automated checkout is the cherry on top. 

Engaging, accessible and valuable, offering an experience based on their unique preferences and habits — this is where we are headed in 2024. 

With technology constantly on the move, the retail industry has no choice but to adapt to keep pace and up to speed with the broader changing face of consumer expectations. In 2023, this included advancements in:
  • AI
  • AR
  • contactless payments
  • data analytics, and
  • omnichannel integration and the convenience of shopping from anywhere, at any time.

Let's add to the mix: on the one hand hyper personalisation and, on the other, the reality of growing supply chain complexities.

Retailers and brand owners that capitalise on these trends and meet the challenges head-on can unlock enhanced opportunities for growth, putting them ahead in an increasingly competitive market. This complexity is seen not as a single innovation but as a broader network of advancements that shape the future.

Admittedly, [this is] easier said than done, yet an iconic chapter in retail history that cannot be ignored. According to www.n-ix.com, investments in retail technology soared to an impressive USD$109-billion in 2021 alone.

Further entrenching the competitiveness of it all, McKinsey reported that omnichannel customers spend 1.7 times more than single-channel shoppers. In addition, a recent Forbes article highlighted the fact that the narrative isn't that the retail industry needs to adopt technology; it's that, as a whole, retailers and brand owners are becoming technology companies.

The shift is not merely operational but cultural, requiring continuous learning and adaptability in the face of change. [Its] a future both from a customer-facing perspective as well as within organisations, where technology acts as a bridge between the digital and physical worlds — creating a retail ecosystem that is:
  • efficient
  • personal, and 
  • above all, inclusive.

At a glance, from the 'first month refreshed vantage point' that a new year offers — in terms of emerging tech trends that will disrupt the retail space as we settle into 2024 — according to www.retail.com — include:
  • driverless deliveries by robots and drones
  • a combination of IoT, AI and ML (a subset of AI that involves training machines to learn from data and make predictions or decisions) powered solutions to control supply chain and inventory management processes
  • re-platforming faster, safer and convenient ways of making payments, such UPI payments and contactless cards personalised product offerings using tech like ML and data analytics, and
  • further enhancing hybrid and omnichannel customer journeys. 

Looking ahead in terms of physical stores, new technologies will shape the store of the future. As detailed by www.thalesgroup.com, this includes:
  • image recognition where, for example, you walk into a café and your preferred order is filled just by scanning your face phygital retail services such as click and collect
  • AR and VR, helping customers visualise products when tried on
  • push notifications as customers walk into a store highlighting deals on favourite products
  • automated stock replenishment, and
  • cashier-less shops.

Closer to home, practicalities force adaptation and innovation, the most obvious being the continued battle that is load shedding. Over and above that, the head of engineering at redPanda Neil Coetzee (while writing for www.bizcommunity.com) said that while technology will power a great innovation, it needs to be ambient and ready to enrich an experience as opposed to being explicit and in one's face.

Furthermore, he gave a nod to the great deal of local innovation in South Africa, with our long history of leapfrogging entire generations of technology out of circumstance and necessity. At the other end of the scale, he cautioned against 'catchphrase fatigue' in the market, the likes of AI and RFID, with many businesses looking the other way instead of bringing workable solutions to the table.

That said, technology in retail is revolutionising shopping in South Africa as retailers and brand owners invest in the future where convenience, efficiency and personalisation hit the sweet spot all round.

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*Image courtesy of contributor