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What Everyone’s Saying About Retail

Emily Johnson

Retail’s most buzzed-about technology trends.

Technology is drastically changing the way we shop and interact with brands. Under pressure from giants like Amazon, Target and Walmart, brands are stepping up – both online and off – to give us amazing shopping experiences.

The following list of emerging technology and trends in retail is based on Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies 2013 and meant to give you a glimpse into what is redefining shopping. 

RFID chips – RFID chips may seem like dated technology (yes, 2010 in the tech world is dated), but retailers like London-based Burberry are using them to bring life to their in-store experience. When a customer walks close to an LED big screen with a product in tow, the retailer shows more information and photos on the screen, giving shoppers access to expanded information without having to browse their own smartphones.

Flexible and same-day delivery – Amazon significantly expanded its same day delivery footprint in 2012, which prompted Google, eBay and Walmart to invest and launch their own rival programs. Even shipping services like UPS, FedEx and USPS have taken note, offering similar services. And not all companies are fighting Amazon – 7-Eleven partnered up and started delivery locker services in the Bay area, where anyone can have small packages delivered to a store instead of at home, offering shoppers more flexibility than ever before and blurring the lines between in-store and online purchasing.

Personalization and recommendations – This space is more diverse and new players with big backers are moving the needle further. Social shopping site Svpply, which was acquired by eBay last year, recommends products a user will like based on his or her social media feeds. Shoppers can store items in an online closet or buy them immediately. Another example is Science, a social e-commerce platform that helps identify the best social tools to create fans and turn them into customers and brand advocates. Whether by using social data to create virtual, personalized boutiques for hundreds of thousands of individuals, turning Pinterest users into shoppers, or helping Dollar Shave Club make the viral marketing video of the year, Science is helping brands connect with shoppers in fun, personalized ways.

3D technology – Poised for growth in 2013, 3D is catching the world by storm. Popping up everywhere from movie theaters to architecture firms to in-store shopping experiences, we are just at the tip of the iceberg in terms of possibilities for 3D technology. Someday, will we be able to order something online and print it off with Nike branded fabric immediately? Maybe not, but for now, we can still take advantage of augmented reality. For example, Crate & Barrel allows users to upload pictures of their apartment or living room to see how tables, couches, decorations or furniture will look.

Mobile payments – Square revolutionized the idea of mobile checkouts, extending small merchants' payment flexibility and customer bases. Square Wallet takes it a step further by recognizing users with the app in-store through GPS technology when users say their name, without even taking out their wallet or phone. Even Walmart, Target and Visa have explored mobile payment capabilities. Mobile payments still have yet to catch on mainstream, but it'll be interesting to see how this technology fares over the next year.

Free Wi-Fi – Shoppers are coming to expect free Wi-Fi as part of the in-store retail experience. Connectivity gives consumers more control of their shopping experience, and that scares some retailers who are struggling to cope with showrooming - when a customer shops in-store but ultimately purchases from another, cheaper, online retailer like Amazon.  But in-store Wi-Fi actually presents enormous benefits to retailers by keeping shoppers in the store longer, enabling high-tech conveniences such as geofencing and in-store navigation, local deals, recommendations and coupons, and improving employee productivity and customer satisfaction by streamlining inventory and checkout processes. Nordstrom, Saks, Macy’s and Sam’s Club, also offered free Wi-Fi this past holiday season, and one can only expect this trend to continue.

What’s the craziest technology you’ve seen while shopping? Will you shop with Google Glass? Chime in below!