Commentary: Six predictions for retail & technology in 2020 and beyond

lightbulb with shopping cart inside

Retail technology will see innovations in areas including sustainability, mobile shopping, and automation in the coming year.

• Sustainability will be the new standard

Dramatic environmental protection initiatives may still be more theory than reality, but next year consumer brand companies and retailers will begin to ditch plastic in earnest and move toward paper garment bags, alternatives to plastic clothes hangers, and paper apparel covers for shipping clothing via e-commerce. This shift will be fueled by consumer demand, but policy is not far behind. Digital codes will be added to these plastic alternatives for greater ingredient transparency and traceability.

• In-store mobile shopping will spike

Already many consumers look up product information and reviews while in the store. In 2020, more of them will compare the price they see in the aisle to those online and place orders accordingly. Additionally, brick-and-mortar retailers will start offering more incentives for in-store mobile users, enabled by precise geo-fencing technology.

• Smart packaging takes off

The total of traditional, visible barcodes (UPC/EAN) in circulation will start to decline in some segments by 2021. Retailers will remove it from their fresh food and other packaging in favor of invisible, machine readable codes that carry more information and offer additional capabilities. This trend will be increasingly embraced by both package designers and retailers seeking to maximize space and increase customer engagement.

• Automation in retail multiplies

Stocking robots, object recognition, automated payments… Oh my! By 2022, retail stores will become increasingly automated, ultimately freeing up sales associates from rote tasks to focus on enhancing the shopping experience. These stores will utilize automation to power unmanned checkout, robotic assistants and restocking, leading to a seamless customer experience. 

• Just in time retail concierge service from your digital footprint

By 2023, smart technology will develop insights from your personal interests and buying history to enable proactive consumer support. In-store service will begin to shift from reactive to proactive assistance and advice, providing support when and where you need it.

• Sensory shopping, coming to a store near you 

Augmented reality will be a major trend in retail settings, ultimately shifting how customers experience the in-store experience. For instance, a meat freezer might have expiration dates and discounts projected onto the package that can be visually perceived through augmented reality, enabling gestural engagement without needing any wearable or mobile computing device. These types of developments are sure to takeoff in 2020 as the technology becomes more advanced.


Tony Rodriguez is CTO of Digimarc

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