The beginning of any year always brings reports and opinion pieces discussing the future of retail. There are references to pop-up shops, VR shopping, and other new trends that might one day have an impact on how consumers purchase and interact with their favourite retailers.
This yearly information overload makes it difficult to separate the noise from reality. Only established retailers and platforms truly know what will work, and they were displaying what’s next in retail at the NRF show which took place this week.
At NRF 2019, retailers—as well as the companies creating the software and hardware that powers the industry—came together to judge for themselves what the future will bring. This year brought an added focus on personalization and AI, all in an effort to deeply connect with customers. Salesforce was a major player at the conference as they dove into their Commerce Cloud, their SaaS e-commerce solution.
“Commerce cloud really allows consumers to interact with the brands they love both in the on-property experience of a website, but also by extending that experience to wherever the consumer is, whether that be through social media, messaging, marketplace, or more,” said Rob Garf, Salesforce’s VP of industry strategy and insights.
Garf was on hand talking about the best new ways for retailers to connect with customers. Along with Garf chatting about the future of retail, Salesforce also invited a number of partners to exhibit and find out firsthand just how retail is evolving.
A core aspect for Commerce Cloud is the notion that retail is quickly becoming democratized. The biggest brands in the world are moving past their dual-channel mentalities of managing only their brick-and-mortar and e-commerce presences and are now considering the wide variance of channels the everyday shopper now has access to.
In fact, Salesforce and Deloitte research shows that on average, retailers use 39 disparate systems to manage customer engagement. This includes point of sale, mobile, call center, email marketing, social media, and more.
The difficulty then lies in making sure retailers of any size can fully take advantage of being present where their customers live. That’s where something like Commerce Cloud comes in.
“AI and personalization are embedded right into the platform,” says Garf. “It doesn’t require a merchant or marketer to understand every point of information and then use a different platform to execute on those insights.”
“It’s imperative for retailers to weave together engagements across everything, from research and discovery to browse and purchase to service and advocacy,” Garf continues. “We’re seeing retailers use this idea of digital transformation to rethink how they interact and engage with consumers.”
With that vision in mind, Commerce Cloud unveiled a slew of new features at NRF designed to aid retailers as they step into the next generation of connecting with customers. The first feature involves Salesforce’s powerful AI engine, Einstein. A new Commerce Cloud Einstein Recommendations API allows merchants to integrate product recommendations beyond the e-commerce site, and the new Einstein Visual Search takes advantage of the tech already in consumers’ hands by letting them “snap and search” for products using images instead of text.
“Retail used to be about pulling a consumer to an owned property,” says Garf. “Now it’s about pushing the brand to where consumers are. To do that foundationally, we have to open up our platform and provide services that we can then extend to things like voice. That enables this transformation to happen.”
Voice is another key area of investing in the future for Salesforce, as they recently rolled out new Einstein Voice features. Commerce Cloud has allowed Salesforce partners like clothing line Perry Ellis to launch voice-controlled personal stylist skills on Alexa—a brand new way “to reach consumers and offer tailored style suggestions within their day‑to‑day life,” according to Perry Ellis VP Vincent Panzanella.
In addition, Salesforce is rolling out a new inventory availability service to aid companies in achieving a perfect in-store and fulfillment centre inventory balance, even across multiple channels at a massive scale. This feature enables companies to launch hugely beneficial services such as browse by store or buy online, pick-up in store, practices that Salesforce partners such as Best Buy are championing with huge success.
“Retailers want to think and act a lot more like software companies,” says Garf. “They feel like they can learn a lot form that kind of agile experimentation. Over the last couple of years, we’ve made huge investments to create more flexibility and agility, and more ability for the developer to go from inspiration to experience. All kinds of brands are wanting more agility through services to build these experiences both on-property and off-property.”
To reach that kind of agile environment many retailers are looking for, Salesforce launched both On-demand Developer Sandboxes as well as a Commerce API Explorer. These two features combine to deliver innovation to businesses faster via a more consistent test and deployment process. And if these new features seem a bit confusing, Salesforce also unveiled a Commerce Cloud Developer Trailhead Trail, which is an online learning resource for partners and developers.
Many of these new features will be available as they roll out over 2019, giving Commerce Cloud users an extra edge to really discern out the important retail trends from the talking points.
“What gets us excited is that this is really creating convenience at the end of the day,” says Garf. “AI is great, but it’s just a technology, and what it does is provide personalization, convenience, and automation, and with voice, it does all three as well. It’s a prime example of the most important retail trends, even though we’re still in the infancy of it.”
Techvibes is an official media partner of Salesforce.