Larsen says she’s noticed a shift in the target audience of retail innovations. Previous innovations were directed at established shoppers – “People like me, who like to shop and are good at it,” – but the new focus on convenience and ease is opening up a new market.
“These are people who don’t like to shop and didn’t even know they wanted to buy that.”
Larsen predicts an “invisible revolution” as technology moves beyond screens into augmented reality. Speech-recognition technology and AI will be key to this. According to Microsoft’s predictions, augmented reality will be a $120 billion industry by 2020.
She says that retailers seeking to incorporate this kind of cutting-edge technology in their offering need to involve more than just the IT team in its implementation, recommending a customer experience team also be involved: “Technology investments fail without that unified team.”
“It’s not just about technology for technology’s sake anymore. It’s customer-centric everything.”
Speaking about how Microsoft runs its retail operations, Larsen says it prizes customer-centricity. An empowered workforce and a modern store are also key.
Among the future developments Larsen flagged is an increase in the presence of AI in retail. She spoke of a robot named Pepper used by Japanese bank SoftBank which can access customers’ records using facial recognition technology: “You yourself are your loyalty card.”
Larsen also predicted an increase in focus on customer experience, saying stores will become less about conversion and more about “getting a customer for life”. Both bricks and mortar and ecommerce will be necessary for this.
She listed a number of convenience-focused start-ups already operating:
- Curbside, which picks up purchases from the retailer and delivers them to the customer in their car.
- Luxe, which will park the customer’s car anywhere.
- Stitch Fix, which uses data science to provide ‘personal styling’ services.
AI will also become more important in the form of bots and digital assistants like Microsoft’s Cortana, Larsen says.
Command and control
Stores have a voice
Collaborate to win
Efficiency of process
Experiment, learn and respond
Data as a unique asset