What three key trends do you think will emerge in the retail sector in 2018?
A lot of new technologies – such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, natural language processing, blockchain, virtual and augmented reality and robotics – emerged in 2017, so I think we’ll see companies adapting to these in 2018. Retailers will adopt each of these technologies at different paces, but machine learning and AI are already proceeding pretty quickly as a lot of companies have invested in areas where AI is implicitly powering solutions. Blockchain, on the other hand, still has a way to go to get to a phase where retailers are implementing it without thinking much about it.
What will be the top operational priorities for retailers when it comes to boosting efficiency and reducing costs in 2018?
Retailers will focus on their physical stores in 2018, largely because consumer demand for omnichannel fulfilment has had sufficient impact that they will find it worth it investing in remodelling. Although they won’t necessarily carry out a top-to-bottom remodel, a lot will be ripping out the fronts of their stores to eliminate the large numbers of cashier stations and tills, and replacing them with more concentrated payment spaces and storage for in-store pick-up.
What new technologies do you think will have the most impact in retail over the next year, and why?
AI will have the biggest influence in 2018, particularly because many retailers are already implementing solutions that use, or rely on, the technology in some way. This impact will be seen by customers who will benefit from a more personalised and relevant shopping experience. AI should also help retailers better match inventory to customer demand, thereby reducing stock-outs and the need for mass discounts, while increasing profit margins and optimised inventories.