Tech Tuesday: Retail Tech Leaps Forward

While retail tech heads are still reeling over how AI and generative AI was all the talk at the NRF show earlier this month, unified commerce technology came in at a very close second. And the reason is simple: retailers are finally pulling the trigger on investments to deliver a true omnichannel shopping experience, said Nikki Baird, vice president of strategy at Aptos.

Baird said after a period of reluctance, retailers and brands now see the value of unified commerce and its capabilities in offering an omnichannel shopping experience. During the NRF show, Baird moderated a session on the topic featuring Ray Etzo, vice president of North America retail at Cole Haan, and Michael Hines, vice president of direct to consumer digital technology at Cole Haan.

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The session opened by noting that while retailers and brands upgrade their omnichannel retailing approach by deploying unified commerce technologies, approaches can vary.

At Cole Haan, Etzo said as everyone talks about unified commerce and omnichannel retailing that “puts the customer in the center, I take a different approach: We put the store associate in the center.” As a result, the frontline employee has a better experience, and so does the customer.

Check out a video of the session here.

Consumers broadly want more AI

New research from tech provider Intellias revealed how consumers use AI in different ways every day. The company said U.S. shoppers polled “are increasingly expecting retailers to leverage AI to improve their buying journeys.”

Researchers at the company said that of the U.S. consumers surveyed in the study, 33 percent said they’re using generative AI tools, including 60 percent of Millennials and 49 percent of Gen Z.

“This widespread and fast-growing adoption of GenAI is prompting consumers to recognize where they encounter AI within their buying journeys — with 41 percent of consumers currently aware of retailers using AI in shopping experiences — and where they expect retailers to leverage AI capabilities to improve customer experiences,” the report stated.

Coming in at 28 percent, pricing and promotions top the list of how AI added value to the shopping experience and was followed by loyalty and rewards at 23 percent. Online product discovery also came in at 23 percent, which was followed by product validation and product recommendations — both at 19 percent.

However, there was skepticism among the respondents — especially regarding data security.

“With the speed at which GenAI has been adopted by retailers and consumers in 2023, perhaps it is inevitable that the pace has led to some wariness among shoppers, with 44 percent of those polled saying that they are mistrustful of brands and retailers using AI in their shopping experiences,” the report’s authors said, adding that 66 percent of those polled said they are concerned “about how their data is used after an AI interaction during their shopping journey; and a further 65 percent are concerned that retailers and brands hadn’t put in place sufficient compliance or data safety procedures when using AI.”

Still, 57 percent of those surveyed said “they didn’t mind retailers using AI in their buying journeys as long as they were transparent about it.” For Millennials, that sentiment rose to 66 percent.

AI helps the checkout process

Bold Commerce said it is rolling out the company’s first AI-enable biometric checkout powered by Wink. “Now, instead of having to manually fill out details like login credentials, delivery details, loyalty accounts and payment preferences, retailers can enable shoppers to use their face and voice to pre-fill all the information necessary to complete a purchase on any shopping channel or in-store,” the company said, adding that Bold Checkout with Wink “speeds up shoppers’ time at checkout by three-times, eliminating checkout abandonment and fraud risk imposed by passwords.”

The company said biometric technologies are already in use by over 50 percent of consumers but quickly noted that “existing capabilities are limited to certain devices and to the payment portion of checkout only.”

“For the two-thirds of shoppers who expect to complete checkout in four minutes or less, existing dependency on passwords for shopper accounts is full of friction and vulnerabilities,” Bold Commerce said. “Current device-based biometric offerings are often bypassed by PIN codes, do not adhere to shoppers’ preferences of using alternate payment methods, and aren’t typically available to shoppers on every channel where they’re making a purchase.”

By introducing biometrics into each part of the checkout process, Bold Commerce said it eliminates the need for passwords and PINs, “so shoppers can go from cart to purchase using only their face.”

E-commerce leaders expect tech investments in 2024

CommerceNext released an e-commerce business sentiment survey Thursday that revealed a more optimistic outlook for 2024. The company teamed up with Sucharita Kodali, lead retail analyst at Forrester Research, to poll senior leaders at 113 companies.

CommerceNext said in a statement that “the majority of large consumer e-commerce businesses are optimistic about their revenue growth in 2024 and that 42 percent are already planning to invest further in technology to boost their businesses this year.”

The survey was conducted earlier this month.

Scott Silverman, cofounder of CommerceNext, said it has been “a tumultuous period for e-commerce since 2020, with many highs and lows. Our industry is ready to return to a sense of normalcy and steady growth. This fresh data shows that we’re headed in that direction.”

The study shows that 57 percent of those polled said they were “very positive or positive” about digital revenue this year, while 21 percent said they felt “negative” about their e-commerce business sales. “More than half (56 percent) of retailers surveyed saw their online revenue increase year-over-year in the fourth quarter, while 34 percent saw a decrease,” the report stated.

“It’s been a tumultuous period for e-commerce since 2020, with many highs and lows,” said CommerceNext cofounder Scott Silverman. “Our industry is ready to return to a sense of normalcy and steady growth. This fresh data shows that we’re headed in that direction.”

Regarding investments, 42 percent of respondents said they plan to invest “in areas such as hiring, marketing and technology and infrastructure upgrades.”

The survey results follow a better-than-expected holiday shopping season.

Kodali said 2023 was another record year in e-commerce “on top of extraordinary growth during the pandemic, so most retailers and brands are optimistic. But business leaders are still cautious that anything could happen, particularly given the uncertainty around inflation, interest rates, upcoming elections and global stability. As a result, 2024 will be the year of scrutinizing digital investments and ensuring they are as efficient and effective as they can be.”

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