Online and traditional shopping alike is onboarding new ways to sell and reinvent themselves for consumers, wherever they are. Image Credit: Pxfuel/CreativeCommons

Shifts in consumer behavior used to evolve over decades, often from generation to generation. Today, they change dynamically, driven by macro-level events like the pandemic and disruptive new technologies.

Advances in online shopping, such as recommendations, one-click payments and ‘buy online, pickup anywhere’ have fueled a desire for frictionless buying experiences in all retail channels. The unprecedented growth in retail innovation during the pandemic is best explained by ‘Necessity is the mother of invention’.

Faced with partial to total lockdowns on in-store traffic, retailers discovered their inner agility and came to understand that they could leverage cloud technologies to develop and deploy bold consumer engagement and fulfillment strategies in weeks versus months or years. Pandemic-born innovations like curbside pickup have started to normalize and will undoubtedly become a permanent part of the physical store experience.

With the holiday season upon us, retailers are excited about how they can leverage their cloud platforms to engage shoppers with more immersive digital experiences that bring together the best of online and physicals store environments. New customer experiences will be paramount to holiday success, given supply chain constraints facing every segment of retail. Below are a few of the most promising innovations we’re seeing from retailers this holiday season:

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Reimagining as the ‘flagship’ store

One way retailers are delivering a more personalized digital experience is by virtualizing their flagship stores so shoppers can enjoy an in-store experience when they shop remotely. Tech startup Obsess builds immersive online store across practically every retail segment: fashion, beauty, home goods, big box, telecom, electronics, and more.

Obsess runs their entire virtual store infrastructure in the cloud, and can deliver high-performance 3D environments all around the world. As consumer traffic to virtual stores increases, Obsess can scale its cloud infrastructure to accommodate more stores and more traffic quickly and cost effectively thanks to the elasticity of the cloud.

Livestream shopping

Livestream shopping has become wildly popular in China, where it’s already a $60 billion industry, and is quickly being adopted in other regions. Cloud innovation such as Interactive Video Services (IVS) allow retailers to broadcast livestreams worldwide with latency as low as three seconds.

Retailers can add a parallel stream with featured product information, polling, and other audience engagement tactics to create interactive audience experiences and drive purchases. Amazon Live, for example, features celebrities and influencers curating their must-have products and top deals.

Shoppers can watch live and previously recorded livestream content on fashion, homewares, technology, cosmetics, and fitness, and easily purchase showcased products.

Smart stores

Even with the massive shift to online channels, retailers know that physical stores help deepen customer relationships and boost brand loyalty. One big area of focus is the creation of ‘smart stores’ that deliver the same conveniences offered to online customers through greater in-store personalization, digital assistants, and checkout-free experiences so customers never have to wait in line.

A great example is Nike’s ‘Instant Checkout’ mobile app, which lets shoppers scan and pay for products with their phone. Further, new biometric technologies like Amazon One enable shoppers to pay for their items simply by scanning the palm of their hand.

With smart store technologies that leverage computer vision and digital shelf edge technologies, retailers can gain real-time visibility into aisle conditions and can monitor customer flow patterns and density to detect overcrowding, enforce social distancing, or to ensure people can easily move through the store on busy days.

As retailers continue to grapple with supply chain issues, their investments in cloud technologies will enable them to accelerate their digital transformation through IT modernization, and use of AI/ML to drive better customer experiences and operational efficiencies. When creating new cloud-based experiences for their customers, they should start with the customer and work backward to the solution.

Answering questions like “Who is my customer?”, “How do they prefer to shop?”, and “What are the points of friction in their shopping journey?” will help retailers elevate customer experiences across channels and reap the benefits of happier customers, deeper loyalty, and increased sales.