Augmented reality, shoppable pins on Pinterest and chatbots driven by artificial intelligence all represent opportunities for retailers today, and not just big ones. These three emerging technologies can all improve the customer experience and boost sales.

Mike Rowan, president and founder, KPITarget

What if you could increase interaction with your brand, boost sales and win the loyalty of an ever-expanding customer base?

While there may not be a silver bullet to make that happen in the blink of an eye, several emerging technologies are elevating customer experience in ways that can directly impact your bottom line.

You’ve heard the buzzwords: AI, AR, VR … there are enough acronyms flying around to send even the most seasoned marketer to a search engine. How is an ecommerce business supposed to keep up?

From clothing to couches, the power of visualization can help customers avoid surprises, and in turn make fewer returns.

Always start with your goals. Want to improve customer service? Minimize returns? Or simply streamline the shopping experience? As it’s often said, there’s an app for that.

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Whether you’re an ecommerce giant with the budget to build your own app, or a smaller business looking to leverage a partnership, here are three emerging technologies that can provide your customers with a better shopping experience.

Augmented Reality

New augmented reality technology can help internet retailers in two crucial ways: improve sales and reduce returns. How? By making the online shopping experience a little closer to an in-store visit.

According to Statista, ecommerce returns will cost an estimated $550 billion by 2020—a whopping 75.2% increase from 2016. The online fashion industry is especially susceptible to high return rates, thanks to the inability to let customers try on before they buy.

Enter virtual fitting rooms and try-on apps. From sophisticated apps that let customers create a virtual mannequin with their exact measurements to technology that lets shoppers virtually “hold up” a piece of clothing to themselves like they would in a store, the goal is the same: help shoppers see what the clothing will look like on their body before they buy.

The same type of service works for accessories, makeup and beyond. Consumers can “try on” a new pair of Warby Parker glasses to see how it suits their face, or find out what a particular shade of makeup from Sephora will look like on their skin tone. But the benefits of visualization go well beyond fashion and accessories.

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Furniture stores like IKEA now allow their customers to visualize what a new piece of furniture will look like in their home. From clothing to couches, the power of visualization can help customers avoid surprises, and in turn make fewer returns. It can also give them the confidence to hit that “buy” button.

Needless to say, we’ve come a long way since Pokémon Go. According to New Gen Apps, there will be 1 billion augmented reality users by next year. Perhaps it’s time for your brand to capitalize on a customer-approved trend that shows no signs of slowing.

Shoppable Product Pins

If you’re in one of the many industries that are a perfect match for Pinterest (ahem, home improvement, fashion, arts, culinary and health), marketing your products on Pinterest just got even better.

With 250 million users a month, Pinterest reaches a staggering 83 percent of U.S. women between the age of 25 and 54. Since these Pinterest users are often visiting the site for inspiration that triggers a purchase, it makes sense that the buying process should be as direct as possible. That’s exactly what Pinterest’s newly enhanced visual search and Shoppable Pins are doing.

No longer do Pinterest users have to track down who makes a product they like and figure out where they can buy it. If a user spots a lamp they love in a living room image, they can use visual search to not only identify the lamp, but purchase it. Shoppable Product Pins include the current price and a direct link to purchase the item on the retailer’s website.
Consider that visual searches on Pinterest have more than doubled in a single year according to Hootsuite, and that 90 percent of weekly users use Pinterest to make a purchase decision. This innovative platform is closing the gap in the customer’s journey to make inspired online shopping easier than ever. What could actionable exposure on Pinterest mean for your brand?

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AI-Powered Chatbots

Good customer service is at the heart of any successful ecommerce business. These days, it’s not just appreciated, it’s expected. That can be a lot of pressure when it comes to hiring a customer service team to field all of those inevitable inquiries. Fortunately, smart robots are here to fill the gap.

AI-powered chatbots can be less of an investment than living, breathing customer service reps, and have the benefit of around-the-clock availability—a boon to customer satisfaction. While first-generation chatbots may have left a little something to be desired, AI is stepping up the game of these intelligent bots.

The improvements that AI brings to the table are machine learning and natural language processing. Using the power of AI, chatbots can now understand the intent behind customer inquiries and respond in a more natural, human way.

It also means that your hard-working customer service chatbot gets smarter and better at its job with every customer interaction. It will also never call in sick on you.

Accessibility at Many Price Points

While your business may not have the budget to build a try-on app from scratch or fund a bespoke chatbot that’s highly customized to your brand, there are multiple entry points to much of this trendsetting new technology.

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Increasingly, augmented reality is becoming more accessible to smaller businesses as tech companies develop AR applications that are designed to cut down both the learning curve and expense of the technology.

The next wave of emerging tech offers brands a way to provide customers with a personalized shopping experience, improve customer service and streamline the purchase process. Savvy marketers can harness the power of this sophisticated technology to reduce returns, win over new customers and grow a loyal customer base.

KPITarget is an Atlanta-based marketing agency.

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