Shifts in retail experiences are taking place rapidly. Coupled with changes in consumer behaviour, businesses need to innovate to stay relevant. For consumers, it is an exciting time as they navigate new experiences and explore vast choices both offline and online. For businesses, it means breaking away from conventional norms. In Singapore, as with the rest of the world, we are facing an “industrial revolution” of sort that is led by disruptive technologies. As a consumer or business owner, are you prepared for the future of retail?

The following are top trends that are poised to influence the retail scene in Singapore.


Robots will pack purchases at warehouses

Warehouse facilities that are heavily dependent on robots are becoming increasingly commonplace. When an online order comes in, a robot picks up the items from the warehouse, packs them and arranges for autonomous delivery vehicles to ship or send them to your doorstep. Amazon, for instance, has 45,000 robots in its warehouses across 20 fulfillment centres to satisfy consumers’ demands. This marks a 50% increase from a year ago in 2016 when it had 30,000 robots and 230,000 staff. If anything, this reveals how heavily invested large companies are into perusing robotics to streamline work processes.


Drones to deliver orders

DHL is already using drones to deliver packages in Germany. In New Zealand, Domino’s launched drone delivery for its pizza purchases last year. This year, it is working with another developer to deliver pizzas using autonomous rovers in some German and Dutch cities.

In Singapore, a SingPost drone delivered mail from the mainland to Pulau Ubin just last year. Some restaurants have also taken small steps to introduce drones into their operations. Even though the use of drones for delivery is not yet widespread, it offers a glimpse of what consumers can be expecting.


Artificial intelligence that understands consumer preference

Artificial intelligence offers a level of sophistication that will be benefit consumers greatly. Developers overseas are devising systems that can understand consumers’ preferences as more data can be obtained and analysed. For instance, UK robotic grocery store Ocado plans to implement systems that can suggest products with lower sugar or salt content based on past consumer purchases, or tap onto consumers’ calenders to know what they plan to cook so that groceries can be delivered promptly.


Consumer-facing robots in stores

Brick-and-motar stores are not necessarily losing touch. Think robots that will replace real customer service staff in shops. Increasingly, major stores are leveraging on technology to enrich a consumer’s buying experience. Home improvement store Lowe is rolling out robots that will speak multiple languages to help customers find their items, or robots that will whizz down an aisle with consumers to look for items. In the US, these are already taking place. In Target for example, robots are taking inventory in stores.


Checkout-free shopping

Apart from Amazon Go, a host of other companies are implementing systems to eliminate the checkout process. This could be achieved through a network of cameras and sensors that track items consumers pick up, or technology for consumers to scan items when it is picked up. Payment will then be made via mobile phones.


Virtual reality and augmented reality

The line between an online and physical store blurs with the introduction of virtual reality stores that engage consumers in a simulated space. With the help of augmented reality, virtual objects would appear as they would in the physical space. For shops to use virtual reality, they will need to provide consumers with headsets.

Augmented reality is a lot easier and cost-effective to implement as it only requires a smartphone. Ikea for instance, has launched an application that allows consumers to virtually place items in their homes. And if you played Pokemon Go at some point, you were perusing augmented reality to conjure objects into the real world.

Even though virtual reality did not quite take off the way it was projected to several years back, this could change very soon. According to Statista, the global augmented and virtual reality market will reach US$143.3 billion by 2020.


With these changes, consumers will be placing greater value on better retail experiences.