The Technology Behind the Best Retail Experiences

Two women shopping at a retail store that has used retail technology.

Few industries have been more impacted by technology than retail. The rise of e-commerce has both imperiled longstanding brands and launched a whole new category of companies and products. The takeaway from the past decade: Whether you're new or not-so-much, it's retailers that embrace technology and put it to work for their benefit that will thrive.

Looking forward, here are four technology trends that promise to change the business of retail even more—not to mention the experience of the shopper.

Visual Search for Mobile

The way that people search for things online is changing, especially as more e-commerce volume moves to mobile devices. Visual search technology refers to the ability to search for an image or product using another image. So a consumer might take a photo of a jacket, and then search a brand website for something similar.

The technology is becoming popular with clothing retailers, but there’s potential far beyond apparel. For example, at least a few glasses companies are employing digital search to allow customers to find glasses akin to ones they’ve seen out and about. Image search certainly opens up a lot of opportunities for retailers that adopt it. One survey reveals that 62% of Millennial and Gen Z consumers want the ability to visually search for items that they’d like to find and purchase.

Geolocation Creates Truly Local Offers

Mobile devices are transforming what brands can know about their customers. While online shopping has provided seemingly infinite information regarding consumer behavior, the addition of location data allows brands to address their customers in real-time, in real places. Geolocation technology provides retailers with information about the physical location of their customers. At the most basic level, such technology allows brands to create truly local offers—targeting specific types of consumers in specific areas with advertisements.

But the technology is evolving even further, empowering brands to take advantage of micro-moments. In these instances, data may indicate a consumer is in a retailer’s store and searching via mobile for a product simultaneously. Brands are now optimizing that information to offer on-the-spot discounts or suggest similar available products.

AR Enables Try Before You Buy

Retailers have experimented with augmented reality (AR) in various ways. One of the most helpful—and successful—uses of the technology is leveraging it so that people can try products, whether remotely or even in-store. For example, Gap launched an app that lets consumers virtually see outfits on different body types. Accessory companies are putting the tech to use as well, with jewelry companies and Warby Parker—the eyeglasses company—creating apps that help users see how they look wearing the products.

Some brands are even trying AR in stores, for instance, as a more hygienic way to experiment with cosmetics. Looking forward, the trend will likely be more AR application in more places, as brands discover how to make the most of augmented reality.

Personalization Sets Brands—And Consumers—Apart

Retailers aren’t new to the idea of personalization, but with the advent of new digital tools, what that actually means is changing. The notion of personalized retail isn’t about creating custom products, as much as providing tailored customer experiences.

Consulting firm BCG notes that personalization today entails using first-party data about individual customers and third-party data collected by outside sources. By combining the two, retailers can create an experience that’s easy and speaks to the individual customer needs—instead of a general audience. And it pays off: A survey by the firm notes that increased personalization also increased the number of items that customers purchased and the amount that they spent.

These trends will change the way we shop and buy products in the not-so-distant future. Brands that understand them now will be able to capitalize on the momentum and cater to consumers' evolving needs.

The views expressed by the author are not necessarily those of Fifth Third Bank, National Association, and are solely the opinions of the author. This article is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute the rendering of legal, accounting, or other professional services by Fifth Third Bank, National Association or any of their subsidiaries or affiliates, and are provided without any warranty whatsoever. Deposit and credit products provided by Fifth Third Bank, Member FDIC.