Amazon and Apple – the new tech stewards of experiential retail

Could the two tech titans drive retailers' charge towards creating customer experiences?
13 March 2020

Exterior of an Apple store. Source: Shutterstock

Consumer preferences are changing rapidly. Physical stores don’t have the luxury of time or resources to provide the wow factor needed to tempt digital natives back into their stores. 

Emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, 5G, the Internet of Things, and augmented reality are beginning to converge and are bringing the concept of experiential retail to life. Experiential and immersive experiences are expected to drive retail growth. 

But the problem is that many brands and retailers need guidance on how to leverage these technologies and ensure they enhance the customer experience rather than create more problems. 

Tech giants such as Apple and Amazon are increasingly taking up the role of a ‘tech steward’ to make the transition easier.

Why Apple is helping retailers create augmented reality-powered catalogues

As the lines between online and offline begin to disappear, the retail landscape is starting to adapt to life in a digital age. Tech behemoths are increasingly attempting to guide retailers through the transformation process and help them see the art of the possible.

Last month Apple revealed that it was working with retailers to bring augmented reality-powered catalogues to life. 

Sure, the concept of leveraging AR to engage customers in immersive environments that drive revenue, is nothing new. Early adopting brands such as IKEA, Macy’s, and Kohl’s have all enjoyed positive results. But Apple is on a mission to bring it into the mainstream.

The tech giant is already working with big-name retailers such as Home Depot, Wayfair, Bang & Olufsen, and 1-800-Flowers. Bringing in-store experiences everywhere seems to be the vision. 

But when you combine the big named partnerships with the heavily rumoured news of an AR headset and AR glasses on the Horizon, it seems that Apple is keen to regain its reputation as an innovator.

Why Amazon is offering its “Just Walk Out” checkout-free to third-party retailers

It’s no secret that in an age of instant gratification, shoppers do not like waiting in line. But they will soon be able to walk into a store, and from the moment they pick up an item, it will be added to their virtual cart. The store will send the bill to the customer’s credit card once they leave. Welcome to the Uberization of retail, where barcode scanning and checkout lines are all removed from the shopping experience.

Amazon showcased it’s cashier-free retail experience a few years ago in its purpose build Amazon Go stores. But Amazon is now offering the “Just Walk Out” technology to all third party retailers. 

The company also advised that the tech required to create a checkout-free experience can all be delivered and set up within a few weeks. As an additional sweetener, it will also offer retailers with 24/7 phone and e-mail support.

Amazon built its success in convincing smaller third parties to sell new and used items via the Amazon Marketplace. The platform famously enabled anyone to get their products featured on the same pages as Amazon’s stock. 

Although Jeff Bezos admitted that third-party sellers are “kicking our butt,” the reality is that Amazon is hoovering up all that customer data. It all remains within the Amazon database.

From the outside looking in, Amazon has provided the industry with a blueprint of how to evolve through its proof of concept stores. But it is now selling back to its competitors. The bigger question is if big retailers that don’t trust Amazon enough to use AWS will accept the invitation to install cameras in their stores or risk getting left behind? 

When big companies become tech stewards

Both individuals and businesses are becoming increasingly suspicious of the motives of the large tech companies that promise them the world. For AR catalogues and walk out technology to be a success, it will require greater trust and transparency.

The reality is many are overwhelmed by the breakneck speed of technological change. There is a need for a trusted steward that can help retailers remove friction and delight customers through digital experiences without being creepy. Whether Apple and Amazon will be those trusted stewards is still up for debate.

If AR catalogues and cashier-less technology enter the mainstream, it will also set a new standard of expectations for customers. An industry that has been accused of being slow to evolve and adapt to our digital world is finally beginning to embrace experiential retail.

The good news for consumers is brands are finally beginning to retire the online vs. offline argument. Retailers, for the most part, now get it. Digital natives raised on Spotify, and Netflix subscriptions expect seamless experiences everywhere, which are prompting retailers to tear down the physical-to-digital divide.

Whether it’s the cumbersome checkout process online or a long checkout line instore, it will be technology that will be at the heart of experiential retail. But retailers shouldn’t place all of its eggs in one virtual basket and remember the value of reassurance that good old-fashioned human interaction delivers to customers too.