The rate of change in customer experience expectation appears to accelerate every year. A decade ago most customer service managers were overseeing a contact centre that processed voice calls and emails after the customer had made a purchase. Now, the customer experience needs to be managed across multiple channels on a far more complex customer journey that blends into the sales and marketing process.

Added to this increased complexity in business processes is a great deal of technological change, from the additional communication channels to the underlying customer database and CRM systems. Designing the processes needed to support your customers today can involve Big Data, Virtual Reality, and interactions online on dozens of networks and channels. It’s no longer just focused on answering the phone.

Retailers are facing a technological challenge. Online shopping is increasingly sophisticated and customers expect more help and advice in-store. Customers are increasingly developing a relationship with the brands they like that was unthinkable a decade ago. Imagine asking your local supermarket for ideas on how making a curry back then, yet today it’s entirely normal to send a tweet asking for recipe ideas and the supermarket brand will respond.

There are many retail trends that rely on technology, but I believe that the three broad areas where we will see change in the next 15 months – to the end of 2018 – can be summarised as:

  • Taking the store into the home: instead of just shopping online from your mobile device or laptop, it will be more common to virtually experience the store. This will largely be driven by the fact that 2017 has seen many millions of games consoles sold with Virtual Reality capability. Both the Sony Playstation and Microsoft Xbox are VR-ready and by 2018 tens of millions of homes will have a VR system at home. Some might ask why you would want to virtually visit a supermarket, but think about booking a wedding venue, or hotel, or holiday resort, or planning a new kitchen, or redesigning your garden. There are many services and products that could benefit enormously from offering a virtual experience and we are now getting to the point where many people will have the systems at home so this becomes feasible.
  • Taking the products into the home: many retailers that offer either expensive or bulky items will explore ways to let customers experience their products in their home before making a purchase. The success of the Pokémon GO game last year showed how people already understand Augmented Reality and brands such as Ikea are already exploring this. You don’t need to buy a chair from Ikea and get it home to see how it will look, the AR system allows you to take any product from the store and to see how it will look in your home. Apple has designed a platform to make this type of AR system easy for retailers, so I expect many to follow Ikea. Soon it will be unimaginable to buy a product for your home without experiencing how it will look first.
  • Connecting in-store experience with online: in-store shoppers need to get the same personal service they get online. Apps need to offer in-store shoppers ideas, recommendations, and discounts based on their preferences and in-store location. Apps need to capture their spending and offer easy ways to redeem loyalty points. They need to offer loyal in-store customers advantages over regular customers who are not using the app – such as avoiding the checkout line by paying inside the app or access to special events. Omnichannel shoppers are much more valuable to retailers and this tight connection of the online and in-store experience will be an important trend in the coming year.

Other changes, such as improved knowledge of the in-store location of a customer, will feed into these broad areas I mentioned, but I think that in the short term, these are the areas where we will see the most immediate change. In particular, bringing the online experience into the store and creating an improved omni-channel will probably be the biggest priority of all as there are clearly defined benefits for the customer experience and the brand – these customers spend more.

But what do you think? It’s easy to list a long list of technologies that will change retail in the next couple of years, but what would you list as the top three that will make a change by the end of 2018? Leave a comment below and let me know what you think, or get in touch on LinkedIn.