Technology has mostly been viewed as damaging traditional retail. Shortly, it can be what saves it.
Three years back, I needed a new car. I had done my research, understood the make and model I needed, and was at the dealership just for a test-drive prior to signing the paperwork. Then the salesman spent the entire ride explaining that this vehicle has been tops among soccer moms, which it was very simple to drive, I wouldn't have to beg my husband for assistance. I enjoyed the car. But the encounter so infuriated me I did not buy it.
Shrewd sales associates understand how to examine and interpret all of the data--body language, mood, extroversion--that customers bring. But a lot of occasions salespeople misread cues, don't listen or steer customers toward something that makes no sense. Soon, though, you're going to be encountering new sales associates--ultra-smart, focused on you, careful to your tastes and preferences. They will understand what you've bought in the past. They will predict what you are very likely to need next. They might even speak in a voice that sounds much like yours.
They're digital associates, similar to the electronic assistants you know--Alexa, Siri, Google Assistant--but programmed with various objectives. In the form of drifting robots, smart kiosks, and augmented-reality mirrors, they'll start showing up in stores over the next two years--or even sooner.
They could save such shops as bodily retail continues to suffer in an age of endless online options. Consider what occurred when Japanese technology giant Soft Bank set up its Pepper robot in a few stores in California. Pepper was billed with greeting clients and answering their questions. Among the Pepper-equipped stores reported a 70% increase in foot traffic, a 13 percent increase in earnings, and six times the typical earnings of a featured item. At a personalized print apparel shop, Pepper created 20 percent greater foot traffic and tripled revenue. That is because, like most of the digital associates, Pepper isn't just a transactional device. It is a system which truly knows the client, thanks to its technical capability to recognize and interpret human emotion.
Meanwhile, some MAC cosmetics stores have installed augmented-reality mirrors so customers can test different makeup looks without fretting about sharing lipsticks and mascaras together with strangers. Japanese clothes merchant Uniqlo deploys an AR mirror which allows customers to see a complete array of colors for a variety of articles of clothes, simply by swiping options on a screen. SenseMi Technology Solutions' virtual fitting-room mirror shows how clothing will move once it is on, thus assisting a customer to decide if a dress is too brief or low-cut without ever having to place it on. Early this year, Amazon patented an AR mirror which permits customers to try on clothes virtually and see themselves dressed for different events: walking on a beach, dance at a gala, interviewing with a possible boss. As these systems grow, they'll store personal details--body type, personality profile. And Chinese tech giant Alibaba's Ant Financial unit today lets clients "grin to cover," via an infected and payment system which uses calculations and also 3-D face-scanning cameras to recognize them.
This can come in handy at a clothing store or a grocery store, but what about bigger purchases--like a vehicle? Within the next five years, half of all interactions we have with machines will be in the form of a dialogue --and businesses will soon have the chance to come up with their own synthetic voices. A San Francisco startup, Voices, is developing a speech synthesis system that mimics emotion, can convey charisma and warmth and modulates to a tone that best suits every client. One day, a digital associate--capable of interpreting my personal data--will probably come along when I choose to test-drive a car, and it won't assume that I'm mostly driving kids to football practice. It will tell me about game style, and the way to customize the onboard computer--and that dealership will earn a sale.