What is the future of retail? A recent Business of Fashion article made the observation that, “everyone is talking about the need for disruption, innovation and change, yet most stop well short of actually doing anything about it” and that “retailers…lack the will or sense of urgency to effect significant and radical change.” Considering 8,642 retail stores will close in 2017 – in North America alone – it’s clear complacency is a big driver of a retailer going out of business. On the other hand, retailers who look to the future could cash in big.  

We all know that e-commerce is the future of retail sales. Combine that with current advances in virtual reality, increased bandwidth speeds, and savvy online consumers and it’s easy to see how mixed reality will spur on sales. In addition to the consumer-facing technology advances, the behind-the-scenes technology should skyrocket as well; according to Business of Fashion, “robotic customer service staff, fully automated warehouses, bot-staffed call centres, driverless delivery trucks and even the displacement of store management…are all clear and present realities.”

Even cooler? Mixed reality storerooms are no longer relegated to science fiction and Star Trek holodecks. Ikea has already launched a VR experience where you can, “explore and interact with an IKEA Kitchen in virtual reality!” Via the experience, online shoppers can walk around, open drawers and put vegetable peelings in the trash. Shoppers can also select different material finishes and even experience things from a child’s point of view.

Embracing change and adopting new business practices to satisfy consumer expectations will be critical for survival. This includes policies for customer returns (a staple in modern-day retail) and how retailers respond to those returns. By the end of 2017, retail returns are estimated to be the equivalent to total online sales, around $440 billion. And, as ecommerce grows, that number will continue to rise. As returns increase, and warehouses fill with excess stock, new strategies to handle the reverse flow of inventory and offset as much loss for this b-stock as possible will be paramount.

Innovative retailers are implementing tech-based solutions for returned, excess and other b-stock inventory. For example, 9 of the top 10 U.S. retailers, among hundreds of others, are currently using B-Stock’s technology and data-driven platform to drive efficiency for their liquidation inventory. By eliminating manual methods, like selling offline to one or two buyers, and instead making their merchandise available to thousands of targeted buyers via an online marketplace, these retailers are automating the process and recovering 30%+ on secondary-market bound merchandise.  

And this is just the tip of the iceberg! The same future technologies used to sell a-stock should be used to sell b-stock. Imagine using mixed reality to provide a virtual tour of products and lots where buyers can see first hand the quality and quantity of stock. These virtual tours can help build a community in which sellers and buyers develop a mutual, trustworthy relationship because they can see, in real time, the actual products they want to purchase as opposed to staged photos. While not quite a reality yet, the future is wide open.

Holiday returns are on the horizon, learn how to better tackle them by watching our webinar.
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