Despite the doom and gloom predictions of the mid-2010s, retail has been incredibly strong in the last few years. In 2022, retail sales totaled $4.9 trillion—reflecting a 7% growth rate—and the National Retail Federation (NRF) anticipates that retail sales during 2023 will grow between 4-6%. Both years exceeded the pre-pandemic, average annual retail sales growth of 3.6%.
Retail was once a guessing game of determining the right product in the right place at the right price. Today, the industry is data-driven. We know when people shop, what they search for, which devices they use to place orders, and how to incentivize customers to make certain purchases. Tech empowers retailers with more insight than ever to deliver goods how and when customers want. That’s why tech jobs have the power to transform retail. In this article, we’ll discuss five areas where tech can have an outsized impact on sales and customer loyalty.
You don’t have to look into a crystal ball to predict the next big trend; you just have to examine search data. Search reveals what people are interested in, long before they’re ready to make a purchase. For example, the annual Pinterest Predicts report analyzes how users search for and save items to forecast trends for the coming year. By all accounts, they’re pretty good at what they do: The company reports that 80% of their predictions have come true over the last three years.
Data is a retailer’s most potent weapon, online and offline. At all steps of the transaction, customers produce a veritable treasure trove of data points, which informs decisions like how frequently retailers should reach out via email or offer promotions.
Returns data is especially useful in retail, because it serves as a feedback loop on communication, quality, and logistics. If customers consistently return a garment because it’s too large, for example, the retailer can use that data to either modify the product decision or review the manufacturing process. If customers regularly initiate returns because a specific type of item arrives damaged, retailers can review their packaging protocols and courier practices.
Omnichannel retail is focused on providing a unified experience across digital and brick-and-mortar, with the idea that—whether online or in real life—touchpoints should feel cohesive. Instead of viewing physical and digital experiences as separate but similar, Omnichannel 2.0 retail integrates them to be used together. That could include features such as:
It’s not enough to simply offer an app; it has to be a great app. Sleek, intuitive design makes shoppers' lives easier, while a clunky app is likely to cause frustration with the brand.
Customers are not a monolith, so why should a website be a one-size fits all affair? While third-party cookies are being phased out due to the European Union’s GDPR data protection law, retailers can still use first-party cookies to create a customized online shopping experience. That could include prioritizing a page assortment to feature items the customer has previously viewed for a long time or abandoned in cart, or merchandising the page to highlight products in a customer’s size. Through A/B testing, digital strategists can refine the assortment and create browsing experiences that show the customer the types of products they want to see first.
Flexibility is key to crafting more intelligent return policies. Automating the returns process through software helps retailers instantly approve or reject a return, and offer VIP benefits like instant refunds or keep-the-item perks to loyal customers. Customizable return rules can also be used to help simplify logistics; returns software can dynamically generate return labels that route packages to the correct location, based on a predetermined set of rules.
Retail is moving smarter and swifter than ever, and customers are constantly demanding more services, product recommendations, shipping options, and seamless returns. Today, all of this still requires a human touch, either as a face on the front lines or as a strategist in the tech lab. Although the volume of traditional retail jobs is in decline, new opportunities—particularly in tech—are transforming the landscape for visionary retailers.
Currently the Senior Content Marketing Manager at Narvar, helping 1300+ of the world's most-admired brands—including Sephora, Levi's, and L'Oréal—take their post-purchase experiences to new heights. Born and raised in San Francisco, but I've lived all over the world. Previous residences include Seattle, Denver, Santa Monica, Kinsale (Ireland), and Wellington (New Zealand). Writer by trade, football player by passion, and tall by genetic lottery.