In the age of Amazon, it's difficult to ignore the possibility of what life would be like without brick-and-mortar stores. What's the use of physical stores when I can buy nearly anything from the comfort of my own bed; where I don't need to dodge persistent sales reps or wait in line and receive my order on my doorstep the same day.

It turns out that many shoppers feel the same way. Last weekend's Black Friday shopping revealed that online sales are surging year-over-year, reaching record-highs. According to Adobe Analytics, retailers raked in $7.9 billion in online sales on Black Friday and Thanksgiving, up 17.9 percent from a year ago. 

Online sales are growing exponentially, enabled by seamless mobile shopping experiences. Commerce marketing firm, Criteo, found that 40 percent of Black Friday online purchases are made on mobile phones, up from 29 percent last year.

Just another reason why mobile is impossible to ignore in today's retail landscape. 

Inevitably, the success in mobile shopping begs the question of "what's next?" How can retailers continue to stay ahead of curve by wielding emerging tech to meet consumers' rapidly growing expectations?

As retailers try to keep up with growing consumer expectations, these are the 4 things they absolutely need to have on their radar.

Drone Delivery

When Jeff Bezos introduced the idea of drone delivery in 2013, it was hard to believe that this technology might someday become commonplace. Critics claimed that the announcement was merely a marketing ploy to get consumers thinking about holiday shopping. Regardless, Amazon thrives on being the leader in innovation in ultra-convenient shopping experiences, and their dedication to providing customers with what they want when they want it is paying off. 

Now that the idea of receiving goods via drone has settled into our collective consciousness, it's starting to seem far less like a science fiction movie. In fact, Amazon made their first drone delivery less than a year ago, and recently revealed patents for massive beehive hubs for drones to operate from in every major city. 

Whether or not we see the widespread adoption of drone delivery this year depends on logistical and legal limitations, especially in the US. The FAA limitations on drone flying in the US is driving companies like Amazon and DHL to test their programs overseas

Blockchain and Bitcoin

Despite its many skeptics and critics, Bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies hold the power that blockchain technology has to change the way we buy things. If it ever fully matures, Bitcoin will allow retailers and consumers can transact without any third-party venders or bank processing. 

One of the most cited, immediate benefits of decentralized blockchain currency is that it has no constraints associated with sending money across borders. It enables us to send money to family, friends, or merchants in other countries--something that's difficult and expensive to do today. 

But removing limitations of transacting internationally could completely transform commerce by empowering smaller, boutique merchants across the world to sell their goods to an expanded customer base. 

Merchants in parts of the world with lower production or manufacturing costs can target the same customers as large, corporate brands using online ads and compete on price while maintaining quality. At the very least, it will increase competition and challenge the way we think about brand loyalty.

Virtual Assistants

Virtual assistant AI technologies can be used to engage with consumers by providing a more convenient, personalized buying experience. An artificially intelligent virtual assistant can learn your preferences, make suggestions, and talk to you in a more human manner than the websites or apps as we know them.

Today, brands like H&M and Nordstrom are delivering convenience with AI text messaging chatbot experiences that allow you to shop via text. In the future, shopping online could be much more conversational; browsing personalized catalogues by simply asking for what you're looking for, rather than the conventional filter and search mechanisms we use today.

Smart Mirrors

In store purchases and conversion rates still far outweigh ecommerce. For that reason, retailers are looking for new ways to enhance their in-store experiences by making them more personalized, efficient, and enjoyable. 

Smart mirrors, touch screen mirrors inside fitting rooms, give the customer complete control over the lighting, the ability to immediately request size changes, and receive recommendations for related products. With this technology, we'll be able to checkout immediately after trying something on. 

The mirror also provides useful data to retailers beyond just purchase data, such as clothing items that people wanted to try on and failed to purchase. It would take abandoned shopping carts to another level.

So far, the smart mirror is showing efficacy, as consumers tend to buy more while spending less time in the fitting room when a smart mirror is installed. Their high price tag has kept them out of the mainstream so far. But if they continue to be a proven method of driving sales, they have the potential fulfilling the need for more integrated, omni-channel retail experiences that seamlessly blend a customers digital and physical experiences. 

Published on: Nov 30, 2017