Retail Technology Trends for 2021

By Krishna Motukuri - January 05, 2021

2020 saw a year of accelerated adoption of checkout-free technology and frictionless shopping, and this year shows no signs of slowing down. Retailers are evolving their operations and embracing digital technologies. Customers are demanding easier shopping experiences and a wider variety of distribution channels. Here are the top trends we see developing.

Contactless technology is top of mind for retailers

The National Retail Federation (NRF) has identified contactless technology as a top trend for 2021. Checkout-free technology is just one example of how retailers are changing the way people shop. Look for various forms and applications of touchless technology, hands-free shopping, palm-reading payment scanners, and contactless payments to become more mainstream in 2021. 

Contactless technology isn’t just about simplifying payment transactions or letting people pay from their phones, it’s about re-thinking the in-store experience with frictionless shopping. Even if the pandemic ends in mid-2021, retailers will continue using technology more proactively to get people in and out of the stores more efficiently without hassle and delay. 

Changing the concept of stores: delivery, curbside pickup, and multichannel sales

We anticipate that customers who have become used to home delivery of groceries, or curbside pickup, will want to keep using these options to save time, even when they are no longer concerned about Covid-19. 

Retailers are already thinking strategically about how their stores are used and who they serve, i.e: not only shoppers coming in, but delivery and curbside pickup orders. Store aisles need to accommodate more leisurely shoppers, as well as focused pickers from third party delivery apps. Stores can be repurposed to serve as micro-fulfillment centers to help fulfill e-commerce orders.

This year more retailers will be thinking differently about how to utilize their retail floorspace and maximize their technology to create an accommodating experience for in-store shoppers as well as pickers, curbside pickup, home delivery, and e-commerce sales. 

Getting better insights from customer data with the power of AI

Retailers are learning more about their customers than ever before; the next step is to get better insights from that data to build deeper relationships with customers. Look for more retailers to adopt AI technology to analyze data for better customer insights. 

This is part of how Zippin’s checkout-free technology can help: we deliver e-commerce-style insights about customer behavior, in-demand product SKUs, real-time inventory management, and more.  

Better integration of technology for omnichannel shopping experiences

Another big trend is for retailers to get better integration of their customer data across different channels: in-store and online. Many retailers already are aware of the importance of data, but they need better technology tools to tie all these data points together. 

The NRF predicts that in 2021, simply monetizing customer data is just the beginning for retailers - the real leaders will be the companies who get better at operating in a “true omnichannel ecosystem” where they can be “omnipresent for shoppers.” 

IDC predicts that “by 2023 75% of grocery ecommerce orders (which will represent 15% of sales) will be picked up curbside or in-store, driving a 35% increase in investment in onsite or nearby micro-fulfillment centers.” 

Frictionless shopping is not just about the in-store experience or checkout-free platforms. It’s about delivering a frictionless experience with every point of contact with your customer, across multiple channels

Wider adoption of 5G for better connectivity in stores

More widespread adoption of 5G network technology in 2021 will help more shoppers stay constantly connected, in-stores and on the go. This can drive additional e-commerce purchases and also helps retailers by reducing the costs of in-store WiFi connectivity; even if a store does not have good broadband, that store’s customers can have better connectivity if 5G is available in that area. 

Checkout-free technology platforms will become more prevalent as 5G becomes more prevalent.

More in-store digital technology

In its IDC FutureScape: Worldwide Retail 2021 Predictions, the research firm predicts that by 2025, “digital shelves, RT inventory visibility, robotic fulfillment, and automated checkout will accelerate investment in connected store edge platforms by two years and 10x over current forecast levels.” 

The future of retail is a digital, automated, checkout-free store experience, and a frictionless shopping experience across multiple distribution channels. Retailers will continue to invest in technology that delivers better store efficiency and deeper customer relationships, and this will include micro stores at venues including sports stadium, conference centers, campuses and transportation hubs. Look for 2021 to continue the acceleration of key retail technology trends toward the emerging “Better Normal” of the future of retail

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