Mar 11 2024
Digital Workspace

2024 Tech Trends: How to Reduce Friction in the Retail Experience

Following a year of elevated hype, is artificial intelligence poised to deliver for retailers in 2024?

Editor's Note: This article was originally published in December 2023 and has since been updated to reflect the most current information and industry trends.

To the surprise and delight of retailers, 2023 saw customers returning to physical stores to shop. As retailers seek to provide a renewed experience for shoppers at their brick-and-mortar stores, technology can offer the convenience and efficiency that consumers demand.

Delivering a seamless omnichannel shopping experience online presents many of the same difficulties as delivering one in person. Customers have elevated expectations of the service that retailers provide, and successful companies can meet those expectations with innovative technology.

Chain Store Age notes, “To stay competitive, retailers must be constantly renewing and rethinking their customer experience, and in the next 12 months, we will see the digital increasingly merge with the physical, to create new content and ways of shopping to keep buyers engaged.”

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But experts say retailers shouldn’t focus solely on the customer experience. According to Andy Szanger, director of strategic industries at CDW, “When we’re talking about the trends in retail, I think a big one is removing friction from not only the customer experience but also the employee experience or store associate experience. Because if your store associate is feeling friction, your customer’s going to feel friction as a result.”

Chain Store Age notes that in 2024, “The technology in physical stores will range from using AI and virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR) to offer events, classes and demonstrations, to continuing to equip employees with tablets and devices to provide more accurate assistance — i.e., on where an item is located or stock availability — and tailored recommendations based on customers’ previous purchases.”

RELATED: Read about the technology driving modernization for the retail checkout experience.

Why Edge Computing Is Reemerging Around AI Capabilities

Artificial intelligence has been at the center of tech conversations across nearly every industry segment throughout 2023, including retail. In the coming year, retailers will consider practical applications of AI. And as AI continues to gain ground in retail settings, many companies will need to find ways to access the computing power to support their AI initiatives.

“It’s all about having the data and then making something out of that data,” Szanger says. “To do that, you need to have compute, and we’re seeing more and more retailers push that to the edge. As retailers have gone to the cloud — and there’s a lot happening in the cloud — the problem is, the more data you push up to the cloud, the more your performance decreases.”

“So, retailers are finding ways to improve that performance. And one of the big trends right now is bringing it back to the edge, doing some of that compute on-prem and then pushing it up to the cloud.” Szanger says. Edge computing will also allow retail IT teams to optimize cloud costs by being more strategic about the data they send to the cloud. “Only the essential information, instead of all the raw data.”

Szanger says that CDW’s Internet of Things workshop is a logical first step for retailers seeking to leverage AI in their businesses. “Our workshops help you look at your business priorities, assess your technology landscape and prioritize a list of projects based on the potential ROI,” he says.

DISCOVER: Find out about the how to secure your Internet of Things investments.

Retailers Will Need Help with Device Lifecycle Management

Of course, greater use of IoT will likely mean a continued influx of devices — another trend that isn’t particularly new but remains a pressing issue. Much of the new technology introduced to retail in recent years has required the deployment of new devices and sensors, from data-rich video cameras to mobile point-of-sale equipment and handheld inventory and store management devices.

“Most retail organizations have a large number of stores that are dispersed throughout the country, if not the world,” Szanger says. “And they certainly don’t have IT people in all of those stores. So, retailers need the help to actually do those deployments, do those installations, make sure things are up and running.”

Andy Szanger
It’s all about having the data and then making something out of that data.”

Andy Szanger Director of Strategic Industries, CDW

Many retailers are likely to turn to managed services to help with device needs they’re not equipped to handle. Szanger says that CDW has several managed services offerings “to support those stores and to manage them after they’re up and running.”

And in the conversation around full-lifecycle device management, it’s important to consider sustainable end-of-life options. “Companies in the retail sector have been making big efforts to improve their sustainability practices, as they know that customers care greatly about making purchases that are environmentally and socially responsible,” Chain Store Age notes.

Szanger says that CDW offers services to help clients with store closings and refreshes that include device reclamation and disposition, performed sustainably.

READ MORE: Technology can help retailers reduce inventory shrinkage and nuisance activity.

How RFID Technology Will Transform Retail in 2024

Szanger says that radio frequency identification technology will be another trend in the coming year.

“RFID represents a huge opportunity for retailers to provide transformation. It’s a technology that’s not new. It’s not groundbreaking or cutting-edge, but what is unique about it is that the price of both the technology and the consumables have come down, and the use cases are expanding.”

While many retailers began using RFID for inventory management and visibility purposes, they’re now starting to see its promise for delivering value. “It ties so closely to your inventory management, but now you’re starting to see immersive experiences, connected fitting rooms, even point-of-sale, and the more ways that you’ve leveraged that same technology, the quicker you can achieve that ROI.”

And when combined with the potential of AI, RFID can become a potent weapon against theft. “Retailers are trying to get creative through the use of technology to combat some of the theft issues and crime-related issues,” Szanger says.

“Also, cameras with AI are being leveraged a lot. Thanks to the layering of AI on top of the computer vision and cameras, you can actually see what’s happening and tie that back to your point of sale. Instead of having someone in a security room scroll through video and look at it manually, we can now automate this and help fight theft and fraud at scale through the use of AI.”

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