As eCommerce technology continually evolves, customer experience is becoming increasingly essential to the conversion of sales. Some retailers are currently planning to create and sustain customer value by providing sophisticated digital experiences that deliver orders more quickly, blend physical and digital capabilities, and simplify ordering procedures. Drones, droids, augmented reality goggles, and smart refrigerators are some of the more prominent innovations on the horizon that are expected to transform the eCommerce industry.
The growing popularity and availability of drone delivery is expected to be one of the most innovative technologies in the retail industry over the next decade. Though regulations (primarily concerning airspace governance) have yet to be established in some parts of the world and are therefore delaying the widespread use of drones, the new delivery system has already played a big role in delivering products to aid disaster relief efforts. The existing delivery technology for these efforts easily translates to the online retail industry, with major retail and delivery companies exploring how they can incorporate drone technology and future eCommerce solutions. Most drones have a cruising altitude of 400 feet and can fly at roughly 60 miles per hour. Radius distances vary from 10 to 15 miles away depending on the prototype, and drones can generally carry packages up to 5 pounds. Alongside eCommerce giants who want to deploy the technology, startups like Flirtey, a U.S. company specializing in the delivery of medical supplies, have achieved ground-breaking developments like making the first FAA approved doorstep delivery drone. Australia Post is currently testing drones to commercially deliver parcels to civilian addresses, and sites in the U.S. and Europe have been quick to build airports specifically for drones (internally referred to as “droneports”). In time, drones could enable some companies to offer same-day shipping, or even same-hour delivery in highly populous areas. These faster delivery times along with a growing number of online shoppers worldwide will likely encourage more online purchases in the future.
A more grounded solution, droid delivery is slowly gaining attention as well. Droids are little robots, typically built with six wagon wheels that travel along sidewalks at a pedestrian pace (usually about four miles per hour, though most are capable of speeds more than twice as fast). The most popular delivery droid so far has been created by Starship Technologies, a startup assembled by the founding engineers of Skype. This particular droid weighs between 20 and 30 pounds, is capable of transporting roughly 20 pounds of goods in 30 minutes or less, and is designed to complete the final mile of a delivery. They can climb small sets of stairs, are equipped with nine cameras to stream live video back to their base, a microphone for two-way communication with customers, GPS tracking (for both their base and shoppers), and censors that help it navigate any obstacles or foot traffic on sidewalks. Environmentalists like these little delivery droids because they use less energy than most lightbulbs and because they not only reduce vehicle emissions but are also generally quicker to deliver products. In fact, nearly 30% of transportation costs are incurred during the last mile, when delivery drivers must search for a parking space and leave their car idling while they make the last few steps of the trip walking to the customers’ front door. Delivery droids will make the whole process less expensive and will therefore appeal to retailers and fulfillment companies looking to cut cost and delivery times. Though droids are not yet utilized within the U.S., several companies plan to deploy testing this summer in southern states and on the West Coast. Around the world, luxury hotels have implemented delivery droids to boost their hospitality capabilities. For example, hotel droids are able to bring necessities like extra towels, soaps, and even room service meals. In Australia, Domino’s Pizza introduced its own robot to deliver pizzas quickly to customers, avoiding traffic and parking problems.
Augmented Reality Technology
In terms of discovering products, retailers have implemented the use of augmented reality to increase online sales. In-home augmented or virtual reality technology comes in the form of headsets or goggles that create an interactive, 3-D shopping experience for the user. It provides retailers an in-home extension of their physical stores and can potentially increase sales with simplistic user experiences and built-in upselling features. Goggle technologies or virtual reality headsets (such as Microsoft HoloLens, Sony SmartEyeglass, Oculus Rift) are growing in popularity due to their multi-use properties in terms of retail marketing. With goggles, shoppers can look into their mirror at home and transform it into an interactive dressing room. The goggles can then help the shopper choose correct clothing sizes with a virtual view of how the garments will fit as well as suggest matching accessories. By utilizing this technology to accurately choose garment sizes, the percentage of online return shipments may also decrease.
Home design will also be transformed with the use of goggle technologies. Leading furniture companies will be able to display what their products will look like within a shopper’s home and allow the shopper to interact with the furniture in order to choose what styles they like best. For example, a customer will be able to select and visualize a couch, moving it to different sides of the room to see how they like it or even try a different size to make sure it fits in a specific space.
Gone are the days of putting little Danny’s artwork on the fridge. With today’s new smart refrigerators, users can display photos, update digital calendars, watch TV, see the weather forecast, play music, compile recipes, receive voice instructions for cooking, and leave notes for others. More importantly, shoppers can access camera views of their refrigerator’s contents on their smartphones and even order groceries and kitchen essentials straight from their refrigerator door. Several prototype refrigerators can even suggest groceries that are running low or notify the user when foods expire and can generate online shopping lists to be purchased and delivered at a chosen time. Shoppers can also order necessities from favorite recipes they’ve saved without the hassle of going to the grocery store, with the refrigerator first taking inventory of the supplies already present and only ordering the necessary ingredients.
With the nearing arrival and growing popularity of these technological advances, the eCommerce industry will likely adjust to leverage new capabilities. With drone and droid delivery technology, fulfillment will have lower long-term costs and faster delivery rates. Augmented reality will provide an in-home shopping experience to customers and will likely decrease return rates with more accurate sizing abilities. Specialty retailers will also get a new opportunity to sell unique pieces online as customers will be able to visualize these products in their homes. Appliance technologies like the smart refrigerator will capitalize on recurring kitchen purchases and will simplify ordering online with delivery options. In the future, retailers can utilize these and additional new technologies to align forward-thinking business strategies so they can possibly obtain an advantage over their direct competition.