5 key tech driving retail transformation today

Simon Hathaway, MD EMEA, Outform

As technological transformation continues to revolutionise the retail sector, five key technologies are gaining ground more than others in the first few months of 2020.

And while all aren’t brand new (understandable, given the scale at which technologies have to be tested across retail estates), they’re all key players in driving retail through API (application programming interfaces). As customers increasingly integrate the retail brands they love into their everyday lives, through mobile, web, social, app, and in-person interactions, the expectation of shopping being everywhere, instant and personal, has made it critical for retailers to dare to innovate and reach customers in new ways.

Within that backdrop, to my mind, these five technologies are gaining ground in 2020.


Fine-tuning retail operations to provide for scaling e-commerce business has become a priority in UK retail, making retail warehouse automation big business and a major opportunity in 2020. Digitalisation is driving huge leaps forward in warehouse tech.

The use of AMRs is improving operations, increasing productivity, accuracy, and customer satisfaction, and leading a new focus on automated warehouse operations as a key enabler of competitive edge.

For online supermarkets, automation and robotics are transforming stock control, cutting delivery times sharply and enabling the processing of millions of items per week, and orders in tens of thousands.

Warehouse automation is also making its way in-store, with a number of retailers using it to increase the speed of product arriving on the shop floor. Initiatives for a well-known sports retailer’s Oxford Street store bring drama to the retail experience and we should expect to see more of these automated solutions, especially as physical stores increase their role in the omnichannel journey through click & collect.


RFID has been playing a vital role in driving financial and operational efficiencies across retail for some time. Now, the future of this versatile tech is growing as more industries and retailers invest in it.

This relatively well-used technology is resurging and in demand at scale. For online and physical retailers, it has proved invaluable, giving greater control over every stage of the supply chain, including stock, inventory management, shrinkage and shelf availability.

But it’s the evolving role of RFID as a trigger for customised experience in-store that is becoming a major retail story in 2020.  It’s a key component in connecting product to content and experience that engages, educates and triggers purchase. We are seeing the wide adoption of lift-and-learn and increasingly, more inventive solutions, including coupling with AI and VR (virtual reality), to deliver enhanced state-of-the-art retail experiences that drive deeper shopper interaction.

By connecting products to specific experiences, retailers and brands can shape how consumers interact and engage. A simple ‘lift-and-learn’ or ‘lift-and-place’ capability engages customers by linking physical display items to content displayed on nearby screens for a highly targeted and measurable platform. Consumers can use a smartphone or tablet remote control interface to change the content on the screen so that all product information, benefits and application tips are displayed – persuading the product purchase.

RFID is delivering vast amounts of invaluable customer data, highlighting insights into how shoppers interact with product and how the customer journey is evolving.  And this is empowering retailers to fast-track decisions on stock and merchandising and to optimise messaging.

Augmented Reality

We’re increasingly seeing ambitious brands embrace AR to enable shoppers to (virtually) try before they buy. The technology being used widely to remove barrier to purchase on-line, begging the question of why customers would want to visit a store when everything needed to make a purchase is available through a Snapchat filter or buy-now button on Instagram. The answer lies in the ability to connect with products through RFiD and our own screen solution combines AR and RFiD to connect lift & learn with a personalised try before you buy experience.

The next generation of smart mirror uses AR and is bringing AI into the mix.  Icon.AI was named as an CES 2020 Innovation Awards honouree for its Smart makeup mirror. It uses skin diagnostics, which offers users advice based on their skin, and an augmented reality (AR) makeup function that means makeup can be tried on without applying it, as well as customer interaction via the touchscreen mirror and a built-in smart speaker.

Visual Tech and Motion Graphics

Advances in visual technology and related motion graphics installations are also proving a major win for retailers. We are witnessing an increasing amount of content communicated through AR, motion graphics and dynamic light installations that draw the eye, provide a destination in-store that is captivating and inspiring for shoppers, and which is proving a considerable commercial asset for retailers beyond blended selling.


Finally Voice and AI have by far stolen the show in 2020 and have been identified as key strategies in retail’s ongoing challenge to engage Millennials and Gen Z. The challenge is now on for retailers to best appropriate the technology to deliver unique tech-led experiences in-store.

Voice can vastly enhance the shopper experience, not only because of the impressive AI-led experience it delivers, but also for its ability to create engaging product stories and ensure complex product education where the costs of staff training may make in-store sales challenging.

Clearly, technology is transforming the way people shop, resetting expectations of experience, and creating opportunity for those that dare to innovate. With the right combination of tech, brands are being brought to life in-store, transforming the shopping experience with sound, vision and interactivity, be that through movement, touch or voice. And that compelling combination is giving customers a reason to visit physical stores again and again.

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