How technology is making retail more human

Technology is dramatically changing the retail landscape, but one thing remains the same: Retail is about providing high-quality, engaging experiences for customers. Human customers.

Successful retailers use technology to amplify and enhance the core human element of retail, not replace it. Pioneering companies like ModiFace, Obsess, Living in Digital Times and ShopStyle are deploying cutting-edge tech to draw on essentially human qualities, combining the benefits of retail’s past and future. 

Check out the official recap for photos, videos, articles, presentations and more from Retail’s BIG Show 2017 .

Check out the official recap for photos, videos, articles, presentations and more from Retail’s BIG Show 2017 .

Larger audiences, deeper connections

Retailers now use social media and analytics to extend a sense of intimate, human connection to every person in a national or global audience. Retailers can interact with millions of digital users as though they were meeting person-to-person with each of those potential customers.

“Technology allows brands to connect with consumers in a way that is scalable, yet still authentic. At no other point has it been possible to engage with millions of your consumers all at the same time,” says Marta Jamrozik, co-founder of fashion tech startup Claire. “Consumers can communicate with their favorite brands, provide feedback on products and feel like their opinion is being heard — which ultimately drives a deeper connection between brands and consumers.”

Retailers now design customer engagement to blend the advantages of traditional marketing and the digital world. According to Melissa Davis of ShopStyle — a leading fashion shopping search engine — retailers can use social and digital to elevate celebrity from a campaign to a moment-to-moment experience. “Social media — and more specifically that of celebrities or celebrity influencer partners — enables retailers to reach customers in a more casual and intimate fashion that’s typically regarded more favorably by the consumer,” she says.

New tools for time-honored goals

However, misguided or poorly executed digital engagement creates frustration, especially if it loses the human element. Technology for technology’s sake rarely works, advises Parham Aarabi, co-founder and CEO at beauty-focused augmented reality company ModiFace: “Make sure technology is actually solving a problem. Avoid things that are gimmicky, and aim for things that feel authentic and real.”

Retailers can experiment with new technology, while still maximizing the long-standing priority of connecting with customers. The most successful approaches find inventive ways to capitalize on both old and new, augmenting retail’s age-old strengths like the bricks-and-mortar store experience with digital features. The result is a new, converged retail environment that draws on the best of both worlds.

“Use social media and your website to create experiences. Use your physical store to get customers to try something new — maybe virtual reality or 3D printing,” says Robin Raskin, founder and president at Living in Digital Times, a tech-lifestyle company. She encourages utilizing wearables and other devices, “from smartwatches and wearable payment systems that let you shop from your wrist, to augmented and virtual reality experiences that let you immerse yourself in a customer experience like trying on makeup or clothing.”

From left to right: Marta Jamrozik, Melissa Davis, and Parham Aarabi

“The human experience is defined by culture, and culture now is more influenced by technology than ever."

Neha Singh
Founder and CEO, Obsess

Looking ahead

Whether it’s augmented and virtual reality, wearables or a transformed in-store experience, retail leaders agree that the pace of change will only accelerate in 2017.

Neha Singh, founder and CEO of virtual reality fashion shopping platform Obsess, stresses that “the human experience is defined by culture, and culture now is more influenced by technology than ever in human history. Any industry — especially retail — needs to keep up with that changing landscape to stay connected to the customer.”

The coming year could also see a revolution in the industry set off by “the combination of augmented reality and artificial intelligence,” Aarabi says. These powerful capabilities are already seizing online search as an opportunity for customer engagement while also fueling next-gen marketing campaigns. In 2017, these could emerge as critical tools for an unprecedented number of companies.

Assessing, testing and implementing the constant stream of new technologies is a daunting challenge. But those who are tackling these practical hurdles are seeing promising opportunities to make retail more human, not less. Radical Retail has arrived, and the advantages it provides to both retailers and their customers are increasingly within reach for every brand that makes the leap.

Want to learn more from these innovators? Hear these leaders and more speak from the Radical Retail track at Retail’s BIG Show