For most of human history, people have been good at predicting future technologies and innovations for say, 100 years ahead.

Today, predicting things even just 5 years down the line is usually an attempt at futility.

Thousands of existing technologies and industries are blending and merging in millions of ways in a singularity that looks all set to explode into a big bang of endless possibilities. However, even amidst rapidly changing variables, there are constants that have stood the test of time.

In a simple sense, technological advances merely served as a substrate for achieving what we humans loved so dearly from times of yore: expend minimal energy and save time. In fact, if you trace any invention or innovation down the rabbit hole to its moment of inception, it most likely would have been sparked by a single factor: convenience.

If you’re a retailer who is caught between agile, well-funded competitors and rapidly changing consumer behaviour, fret not as this single entity might be the perfect leading light beacon for a safe and successful voyage into the future.

So, without further ado, here are the top trends that will rule the future of ecommerce.

The blurring of digital and the real world

AR

The question of whether we are living in a computer simulation is a long-standing one amongst astrophysicists and philosophers. Well, the question will seem more pertinent in the future thanks to AR companies like Next/Now, INDE and Groove Jones which are working feverishly to bring to life screenless digital projections and holograms on to the real world; rendering reality almost indistinguishable from the digital.

These technologies will have a massive impact and use-cases in ecommerce and retail landscape by easing purchase frictions by empowering consumers to negate the guess-work. A case in point is the ability to project life-like furniture in your living room to check if it matches the decor.

Intelligent digital assistants will become widespread

Pepper Robot

While the current set of AI assistants like Siri, Alexa and Cortana are impressive, the next generation of digital assistants is expected to be capable of almost human-like cognition. We are talking ‘HAL 9000’ from 2001 Space Odyssey and Samantha from ‘Her’ levels of cognitive and reasoning capabilities.  Will they become the conduit for AI to go into overlord mode and enslave humanity? Elon Musk seems to think so but we’re not very sure. But they definitely will have huge ramifications in the ecommerce and retail space.

Macy ’s and a few other brands have already started piloting AI-based assistants in its stores. While its current capabilities are limited to guiding customers to the right section and offering product information, the day won’t be far when these assistants are capable of offering personalized fashion tips based on the occasion, local weather conditions, facial and body contour, and latest trends.

The shift from 2D view to 3D view of customer

3D View of Customoer

As consumers start engaging with newer technologies like wearables, connected cars and IoT-enabled appliances, the amount of customer data available to brands will skyrocket in the next 10 years. This will accelerate the movement from the current 2D view of the customer to a 360-degree accurate view. When coupled with AI and ML innovations, these datasets will be able to predict consumer behaviour to almost 100% accuracy.  The winners will leverage this data pool to build a persona for engaging with their customers in a contextually relevant and personalized way at every step in the shopping journey.

The pretzel-shaped shopping journey

Pretzel Customer Journey

The traditional linear purchase journey is already on its leg and in the next 5 years, brands can expect it to be totally phased out. Thanks to the proliferation of wearables and connected devices like cars, appliances and smart TVs , the consumers of the future will engage with brands across multiple platforms and devices in a pretzel-like twisted, crisscrossing loop. For retailers, the key here is to maintain a connected, unbroken, omnichannel journey and be ready for channel disconnects and reconnects anywhere, anytime.

Predictive analytics and curated shopping experiences

Predictive Shopping

The barrage of data and the rise of complex AI systems will allow brands to develop accurate predictive models for recommendations and R&D for new development.  This will give create the next step in curated shopping and subscription services to create personalized experiences to fit the exact needs of an individual customer. Predictive analytics is expected to have widespread retail use-cases like loyalty programs, customer engagement, in-store experience and fulfilment. For example, retail brands can devise a predictive model that will generate a customized discount code for customers who are at the risk of switching to a competitor.

Fulfilment will become a major differentiator

With the rising demand for same-day delivery, outdated supply-chain processes will no longer viable. The on-demand economy will force technology giants, logistic firms and retailers to combine forces to devise innovative delivery modes. Expect drones, driverless/autonomous vehicles, wearable and mobile technology and robots to be the most disruptive technologies. Alibaba, Amazon, UPS and Walmart are already experimenting with fully automated warehouses manned by an army of robots and drone delivery.  In fact, drone traffic has reached significant levels in Japan that Rakuten Air Map has launched an unmanned traffic management platform in the country. Brands are also likely to engage futuristic transportation modes like hyperloops and autonomous travel pods to further optimize their logistics network.

Hyperpersonalization will be the new norm

We are already witnessing personalization in many forms, but it doesn’t hold a candle to what is about to come. Consumers can expect a seamless, dynamic and real-time shifting world of content created around them by intelligent algorithms that know them better than they know themselves. Shoppers will have instant access to delivery dates, lowest shipping cost, and the best discount codes for multiple retailers within seconds. An agile ecommerce platform powered by AI and ML technologies will be critical in determining the success of your hypersonalization efforts. The winner may come down to brands that know the consumer the best, their product and delivery preferences, the likelihood of return shipments, and the packaging itself.

Omnichannel will evolve into the Omniverse

Omniverse

Omnichannel commerce is expected to become even more connected and seamless in a way that the individual blocks merge and finally fade into each other to create a unified real-time universe. This concurrent experience will involve consumers engaging with brands across digital and offline channels all at the same time. For instance, a customer walking into a retail store will be simultaneously comparing prices through his wearable smartglass.

Dominic Machado
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