2019: A look back at trends that disrupted retail tech

Dan Berthiaume
Senior Editor, Technology
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The past 12 months seemed to go by in a blur, yet so many important and disruptive trends emerged in the world of retail technology. Here are three trends from 2019 poised to continue disrupting retail in 2020 and beyond.

Delivery – minus the driver
Retailers piloted a wide assortment of automated delivery vehicles throughout the year. In January, Amazon introduced a public test of Scout, a six-wheeled, automated robot which makes deliveries while traveling sidewalks at a walking pace. Other self-navigating delivery robot pilots launched this year included a device called the FedEx SameDay bot that FedEx rolled out with Walmart and Target, as well as an autonomous delivery device called Serve that Postmates tested in Los Angeles.

Self-driving autos, trucks and vans were also all the rage in delivery during 2019. Pilots using self-driving vehicles from a slew of manufacturers, ranging from start-ups to “Big Three” automakers, sprang up at retailers and delivery providers including Walmart, Kroger, UPS, Stop & Shop, DoorDash, and H-E-B.

In October, Walgreens made a big splash by partnering with Google and FedEx Express in the first-ever “store to door” pilot of drone-based deliveries in Virginia. The year also saw Amazon unveil a new drone model it plans to use for Prime Air deliveries in 30 minutes or less. Other big-name retailers that publicly explored the potential of autonomous drones as delivery devices included Walmart and CVS (in partnership with UPS).

Social Retail
2019 was also a year where social media became more of a transactional platform. Instagram led the way by rolling out direct online shopping features such as Instagram@shop, an assortment of shoppable products curated by a team of Instagram editors. In addition, Instagram enabled a small group of celebrity “creators” to tag products in their posts, making the products instantly shoppable, and piloted a new instant product launch notification service.

Pinterest also introduced several new social shopping features in 2019, including personalized shopping hubs at the top of users’ home feeds, an updated shopping section that enables users to browse entire product catalogs from companies and click directly to the checkout page on the retailer’s site, and a new dedicated section from retailers beneath product pins.

Furniture virtually comes to life
Furniture has traditionally been a tough sell online. However, several retailers attempted to provide digital shoppers with a realistic view of furniture products, including how they would look in the customer’s own personal space, using augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (AR) technology.

La-Z-Boy launched a 360-degree product viewer with 3D product configurator, enabling consumers to virtually customize and explore products with 360-degree product spins, as well as 3D room planner solutions for customers, associates, and designers. Bob’s Discount Furniture and Amazon also introduced VR-based 3D online room planning tools. 

Meanwhile, Ikea rolled out a new AR app that enables users to enter the dimensions of rooms in their homes, and then place realistic digital images of home furnishings into virtual representations of those rooms. Customers can directly purchase items after viewing them from the app.

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