As 2022 draws to a close, it’s time to look back at some retail technology trends that shook up the industry all year long.
While I’d be hard-pressed to pick a single retail technology trend of the year for 2022, I can definitely highlight three: supply chain automation, metaverse stores, and retail media networks. Let’s take a closer look at each one.
Supply chain automation
2022 was the second straight year retailers faced major supply chain disruption, caused by factors such as the COVID-19 pandemic and sociopolitical upheaval.
In response, an increasing number of retailers are leveraging leading-edge technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics to mitigate the effects of supply chain disruption. For example,Walgreens is leveraging the machine learning (ML) capabilities of Blue Yonder’s inventory management technology to improve the accuracy of inventory, shrink, and shipping.
The drugstore giant uses ML to see what the probable fulfillment rate is, as well as to support the sustained increase in customer usage of omnichannel shopping features, such as buy-online-pickup-in-store (BOPIS), curbside pickup, and same-day delivery, which began during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Meanwhile, Walmart continues growing its next-generation fulfillment center infrastructure. The leading discounter is renovating all 42 of its regional distribution centers (RDCs) with automated technology.
RDCs are a strategic part of Walmart’s broader supply chain network and help keep its more than 4,700 stores stocked. Its new technology investment uses a combination of artificial intelligence (AI)-powered software systems, robotics and automation to sort, store, retrieve and pack merchandise onto pallets which are then shipped to stores.
Other notable examples of retailers implementing sophisticated automated solutions in their supply chains this year include Amazon, Gap, and Kroger.
The metaverse, and its role as a commerce platform, is still evolving. Much like social, mobile and even e-commerce before it, metaverse commerce will go through several years of growth and change before reaching maturity as a digital retail channel.
At its current stage of development, one of the main ways retailers are selling goods via the metaverse is through immersive, interactive virtual stores. In some cases, customers engage with the metaverse store environment via avatar, and in others the store is presented to the shopper via first-person navigation.
In addition, some retailers build their metaverse stores on standalone platforms, while others launch virtual stores within a larger, established metaverse environment. Vertical beauty retailer Charlotte Tilbury is a metaverse commerce pioneer that runs a sophisticated virtual store on its e-commerce site on the Obsess platform.
Charlotte Tilbury initially launched a digitalized version of its brick-and-mortar store, leveraging Obsess technology, in November 2020. Within the virtual store, customers can explore, shop, receive personalized advice and product recommendations, join live events, and watch makeup and skincare tutorials. In the two years since, Charotte Tilbury has added numerous features, including a virtual 3D Shop with Friends solution and branded customer avatars.
Meanwhile, the Roblox immersive gaming platform is proving to be a top metaverse environment for retailers to open stores. In one example, fast fashion retailer Forever 21 operates the Shop City virtual store on Roblox, where can buy and sell the retailer’s merchandise, including accessories and clothing, hire non-player characters (NPCs) as employees, and customize every aspect of their own store as they try to become the “top shop” in the gamified experience.
Retail media networks
In-house retail media networks provide retailers’ brand partners with direct promotional access to shoppers via channels such as in-store digital displays, as well as online advertisements and connected TV. They emerged from the grocery sector, which remains the primary vertical where retail media networks are found.
However, in 2022, a growing number of retailers in verticals beyond grocery also joined the trend. For example, Best Buy launched Best Buy Ads, an in-house media company designed to help its suppliers provide shoppers with targeted, timed promotional messages based on its customer relationships and insights.
Even digital department store retailer Lord & Taylor got in on retail media networks in 2022, using InMobi Commerce technology to provide partner brands and ad agencies with a full-funnel retail media platform, including shoppable videos, designed to move immersive product discovery from third-party social platforms back to its owned channels.
Editor’s note: This is my last column of 2022. Retail Insights will return on Friday, Jan. 6, with a look at three retailers to watch in 2023. Thank you for letting me share my thoughts on the industry every week and have a Happy Holiday and New Year.