The Future of Retail will be defined by technology

I recently had the opportunity to moderate a panel discussion at CE Week in New York. The topic was the Future of Retail—a big, broad subject, to be sure—but technology was the single unifying force shaping our industry's future.

IoT, virtual reality and in-store displays are among the consumer-facing technologies expected to change retail, but there is no shortage of IT based technologies that are being tested and explored today.

The struggle for retail IT will be bridging this gap, and that is no small feat.

There are the online features that are being increasingly offered: new kinds of live chat, videos and virtual fit technologies. Virtual fit is currently changing the way eyewear retailers are able to reach shoppers. A site such as—which pioneered the technology—would not have found much success without the cameras embedded in computers and mobile devices. The technology not only helps shoppers better visualize their eyewear options before buying, but also helps provide a better fit, therefore reducing returns and improving customer satisfaction.

Fit technology is a missing link for apparel retailers in particular. I've heard from several in the past year who believe that until the issue is solved, online apparel sales will continue to be costly for retailers and frustrating for shoppers, who have taken to using their home as a dressing room thanks to free shipping and returns.

Payment technology also plays a prominent role in the Future of Retail. It is one of the most discussed issues in retail IT today and was featured prominently on the Future of Retail panel. Because while retailers try to meet the looming EMV deadline, there are new payment platforms demanding attention including mobile wallets.

One panelist at CE Week was there to talk about Zibby, a new payment program that can qualify shoppers for large purchases online, and address the close to 50 percent of the population that are underbanked and have no credit cards. Walmart is also attempting to develop payment solutions for the surprisingly high number of U.S. shoppers who are unbanked and have no credit cards or bank accounts.  

Both platforms serve to illustrate the opportunities, challenges and change that retail IT will face in the near future.

No one really knows what the future of retail will really look like, but one thing is for certain: It will be defined and realized through technology. -Laura