Sonarika Mahajan, Founder, Humanitive

Enterprises in the retail sector have started deploying various new-age technologies and solutions to streamline their operations and enhance business efficiency. New technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), internet of things (IoT), virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and robotics are being used to provide a personalised experience to customers and offer customised products and services. Industry leaders share their views on how information and communication technology (ICT) is transforming the retail sector, the opportunities and challenges that it presents, and the way forward…

What are the key technology trends dominating the retail sector and how has the adoption of next-generation technologies such as AI, IoT, robotics and AR/VR been going?

AI, VR and AR are the most dominant trends in the retail sector. They are helping organisations come up with new customer experiences, which are unique and interesting. Meanwhile, retailers are updating their technology with the latest features to create an immersive retail experience for customers. AI gives customers freedom from visiting stores for trials of clothes or product testing. VR, at the same time, is helping improve the business side of the store. Similarly, technologies such as AI, IoT and robotics play vital roles in the retail sector. They enhance consumer experience and allow consumers to explore the retail sector with ease. They also reduce the operational cost for retailers. AI helps analyse customer data, and accurately predict customer be­haviour and demand for a product. IoT helps immensely in the operational part, improves efficiency and increases engagement through connected devices.

What are the key technologies being adopted by your organisation? What are the challenges faced while deploying these solutions?

We have worked intensively on machine learning (ML) for information security. This includes data privacy, storage and management. In addition, the company has invested in technology integration and upgradation such as chatbot personalisation for users. The main challenge that Hu­mani­tive has faced is giving a personal touch to the users. Humanitive is not merely a gifting brand – a social cause is attached to every gift that a user chooses to buy. AI, chatbots and AR are advanced technologies, but they fail to add a personal touch and that is the main struggle of any ad­van­ced technology.

What new opportunities have opened up with the digitalisation of the sector? How are you tapping them?

Digitalisation of the retail sector has opened the doors of virtual shopping. More and more people are finding it convenient to shop online than roaming in offline sto­res. New technology is bringing a revolution in the retail space. For example, our chatbot personalisation helps us un­derstand our customers’ issues much better. Digitalisation has not only en­han­ced the customer experience, but has also helped us understand their concerns in a manner in which one could not even think about pre-digitalisation.

Going forward, what technological trends are expected to shape the sector?

In the 21st century, there is no industry that has not been impacted by new and advanced technologies. Every industry has found an online space and to keep up with the entire world, companies need to be up to date with every new advancement. This goes for the direct-to-consumer sector as well. Technology has become the backbone of the e-commerce sector. Starting from the extensive use of social media platforms for leveraging visibility to using CRM systems for smooth operations and customer experience, technology will go hand-in-hand with the retail sector. IoT devices will help in building an omni-cha­nnel presence as well.

The AR system has a lot of potential. Customers remain assured that they can try the items before they buy them even if it is online. It saves them the time and pro­cess of exchanging and returning things. Hence, it provides great customer engagement. It has the power to keep a customer hooked to a particular product and en­gaged in the website.

Further, chatbots are a great way to answer any simple query that a customer might have. It makes them feel valuable to some extent as well. AI is likely to have a large contribution in the retailer sector. For example, it can manage the inventory and consumer behaviour in a simple click.