Over its 50-year history, the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) has evolved from a stunning exhibition of current consumer gadgets, to a crystal ball-like showcase that foreshadows upcoming trends. This future-focused orientation was in full display at CES 2018, and retailers were given a clear vision of which devices are in demand, as well as which future technologies will pave the way for the next generation of shopping.
Technologies at this year’s event demonstrated how retailers will have to raise their own standards to meet growing consumer demands for a faster, more engaging, more personalized shopping experience. When you examine the trends from CES 2018, you can see a few standout technologies that are poised to move from potential game-changers to established standards by next year. They could even drive substantial change in the way consumers evaluate devices.
1) Artificial Intelligence Will Finally Take Center-Stage
In their fierce competition, Amazon, Apple, Google, and Microsoft have established intelligent, responsive voice assistants as the new standard for consumer interactions. The widespread use of artificial intelligence through Siri, Cortana, and Alexa have started to normalize the interaction of speaking to a computer instead of a human to get the service you want.
AI has developed from a “neat idea” to a market-ready solution, serving a variety of high-value use cases. Alexa, Siri, and Cortana not only act as personal assistants, but also personal shoppers in the digital world. AI-driven chatbots are optimizing both customer service and marketing, creating endless opportunities for brands to start a two-way conversations with their customers. Every customer-facing technology is now syncing back to a retailer’s big data platform, enabling better insights for brands and a personalized level of service for each individual.
Lately, the best performing retailers all have one thing in common: they’re already leveraging AI to enhance the digital experience, drive loyalty, and innovate. Artificial intelligence is no longer a technology of the future - it’s changing retail at its core, today.
This year, AI played a supporting role in an ensemble cast, sharing the stage with augmented reality, wearables, even-higher-resolution TV’s, and biometrics. We predict that by the time CES 2019 kicks off, AI will be front-and-center, integrated either in the front or backend of every consumer-facing device and setting up the framework for the first version of the Internet of Things.
2) Robots Won’t Enter Homes, But Will Enter Stores
Advancements in AI, particularly with chatbots, are quickly unlocking the potential for robots to play a role in the lives of average people. While robots aren’t quite ready to take on the role of a personal assistant, they are starting to provide huge value for consumer-facing businesses.
Robots in retail are already demonstrating their value through a variety of use cases - from stocking shelves to directing customers, and they are advancing their capabilities very quickly. Whether it’s driving education and promotions, engaging customers in conversations to collect valuable insights, or simply providing a uniquely memorable experience for every visitor, the advantages of robots roaming the storefront are becoming clear and the technology is proving its worth.
By this time next year, we expect robots to start playing a more established role in shopping experience, whether it’s through store-to-home delivery, keeping aisles fully stocked, providing interactive entertainment, or simply roaming the showroom to help customers shop.
3) Most Technologies Will Go Retail Before Going Household
It’s strange to think how technologically antiquated most physical stores are, considering brick-and-mortar retail still accounts for about 90% of all retail spending in the US. Two-dimensional signage, static product displays, and even paper coupons dangling from the aisles all seem like historical artifacts in a digital age.
But the physical store began seeing a resurgence in 2017, so much so that established internet-only brands like Amazon, Google, and Warby Parker rushed to set up shop in local markets. Simply put, brick-and-mortar isn’t dying, and retailers are finding that they’re actually at the heart of the ideal customer’s omnichannel experience.
One of the major reasons for this resurgence is that the physical retail store appears to be digitizing, with brands leveraging augmented reality, biometrics, 3D imaging, and a plethora of other technologies to create a personalized, interactive experience for shoppers. Coincidentally, these technology manufacturers have had some difficulties taking their devices direct to consumers at scale - AR, VR, biometrics, and 3D printing all currently lack the commercialized use cases needed to appeal to the masses; they’re really cool tech but have not established their value to the user in their home.
However, retail provides the perfect use case for these devices to showcase their value to consumers. We believe technology providers will seek out partnerships with retailers to put their tech in front of shoppers. Retailers will get the enhanced, interactive shopping experience they need to differentiate, tech companies will be able to demonstrate their devices’ value to consumers without asking them to make an upfront investment, and consumers will get to try out the latest gadgets in a real-life setting before purchasing them in-home. It’s a win-win for all parties involved, which is why - just like robotics - other innovative technologies may use retail stores as a gateway to consumer households.
The Bottom Line
At the rate technology is progressing, CES 2019 will demonstrate a clear vision of technology’s future: artificial intelligence converging with devices like biometrics, robotics, wearables, and smartphones to create the framework for the Internet of Things.
Additionally, CES 2019 will likely demonstrate a new go-to-market strategy pattern for technology firms - partnering with physical retailers to showcase their value to in-store shoppers before marketing directly to the general consumer. This convergence stands to benefit brands, tech companies, and individuals, alike, creating a dream scenario where everyone benefits; a scenario we hope to see at next year’s Consumer Electronics Show.