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Consumers expect wearable devices to shape the future of retail

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26th Aug 2015
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Three-quarters of shoppers believe wearables will ‘revolutionise’ the physical retail experience, according to a consumer survey from Vista Retail Support.

The poll, which was designed to explore attitudes towards devices such as smartwatches, fobs and even ‘smart clothing’, found that 72% of consumers expect wearables to become part of the future of retail, while 51% see these technologies as becoming commonplace in stores within two to five years.

The benefit of wearables for most shoppers appears to be at the point of transaction, where 82% view speed at the checkout as the main advantage of using wearable technology. Devices such as Apple Watch are expected to play an increasing role in the payment process, but only as mobile payment methods become more commonplace and incorporate syncing capabilities between watches and phones.

New payment services from major tech vendors have helped increase the awareness among consumers of what’s achievable, however. Apple Pay launched in the US last September and the UK this July, while Samsung’s own mobile payment rival launched in South Korea last week. With ‘Android Pay’ also rumoured to be launched within the coming weeks, it appears there is a clear statement of intent from leading providers about the route they expect consumers to go down with payments, in the near future.

However, James Pepper, Vista Retail Support’s technical director, believes retailers themselves should be aiming to innovate beyond the transactional, with customer service presenting the clearest opportunity:

“Of course, the arrival of Apple Pay is the most attention-grabbing of the current developments. It will pull many consumers away from their chip-and-pin payment cards for smaller purchases and is part of the general trend towards the everyday acceptance of wearable technology.

“[But] retailers have a great opportunity here to take the initiative and engage with queueing customers so they feel more at ease using their wearables to make payments…The same technology can be adapted to bring a big boost to customer service. Staff equipped with a headset can see down aisles and pull up real-time product availability information in front of their eyes. Without having to leave customers, they can let them know precisely where products are, whether they are in the stock room or will shortly be delivered.

“And as more retailers operate click-and-collect, this visual display technology will enable in-store staff to complete an order much more quickly, picking up the location of products through tiny radio tags. Not only will it save staff time, it will also alert them when the stock of individual items is running low and shelves need replenishing.  As a result of such increased efficiency, the click-and-collect experience for the customer should be smoother than ever, free of embarrassing delays or incomplete orders.

“Seen in three dimensions, then, wearable technology is likely to become an everyday part of retail, both on the shelves, on the shop floor, in the stock room, back office and even at headquarters.”

A recent study by IHL Group claims global retailers are missing out on £419.9 billion a year in revenue caused by some of the in-store failings Pepper believes can be righted through the proliferation of wearables.  

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