How legacy brands and retailers can keep up with our tech-driven world

The U.S. apparel industry is currently valued at $12 billion, and with the high number of dollars pouring into the retail economy, brands are looking to technology to foster deeper connections with consumers and elevate the overall shopping experience.

Whether it’s in-store or online, technology is becoming a lever to bolster brand loyalty and customer satisfaction. Resources such as shopbots and “virtual concierge” services are helping retailers turn new customers into repeat shoppers.

Previously an underutilized resource in the fashion industry, retail tech is now offering personalized shopping experiences that suit the needs of a diversified pool of consumers.

Case in point, Macy’s and IBM announced a pilot program that aims to expedite and streamline the in-store shopping experience for customers. Watson, IBM’s AI technology, can answer questions about inventory, store navigation, FAQs and specific questions regarding store locations. The “Macy’s On Call” system also evolves as it learns more about its customers.

These cognitive research capabilities have helped Macy’s build a mechanism to enhance the brick-and-mortar experience in an age where online shopping is king. The department store chain has been undergoing a transformation to remain of value to shoppers who have ample choices — both online and in-store. With more people shopping online, the retail giant is closing stores and focusing heavily on providing superior customer experience with bots in the real estate locations they’ve retained.

Technology presents a huge opportunity to reinvigorate the consumer experience, and other brands are following suit in order to keep up with the growing desire for personalized detail. Sephora’s brand bots offer makeup tips, reviews and customer service answers, while Swedish-based clothing manufacturer H&M offers customers fashion suggestions and outfit recommendations.

Brands need to continuously evolve and integrate smarter shopping in order to advance in an increasingly competitive e-commerce landscape.

Both brands have some of the highest engagement rates on messaging app Kik. The app’s easy-to-use interface has helped brands boost response times for customer inquiries. Through continuous use, these bots adapt to customers and effectively “learn,” allowing them to make suggestions based on purchase history and products best suited for specific customers. With its increasing popularity, Kik has grown by roughly 1,100 bots per week since the platform opened for developers on April 5, with big brands like Victoria’s Secret getting in on the action.

Similarly, various social platforms are also playing an increasingly key role in consumer engagement for retail brands. Michael Kors has leveraged Instagram using the hashtag #InstaKors, which allows users to shop for special products directly on Instagram. Nike has also used Instagram to engage shoppers with special promotions and exclusive releases to keep customers coming back. This style of e-commerce gives customers a new way to interact with brands on a more intimate level, creating a stronger community for engagement that helps brands retain relevance.

And social retail tech isn’t one-size-fits-all; many brands are turning to Snapchat to engage with customers. With 150 million Snapchat users, brands like Lancome and Target are applying shoppable ad technology, giving viewers access to the brand’s mobile sites while allowing users to shop without leaving Snapchat.

With the current e-commerce revolution gaining traction, new technology will continue to simplify our spending. Soon, shoppers can ditch credit cards altogether; digital fingerprint scanners, which are expected to be implemented in the next few years, allow for secure, one-click checkouts. This in turn lowers fraud charges and makes it more difficult for hackers, as credit card data no longer needs to be stored. Additionally, when ordering online, same-day shipping is expected to become the norm. Waiting three to five business days for a product you ordered will become a thing of the past. Instant gratification — yes please.

Brands need to continuously evolve and integrate smarter shopping in order to advance in an increasingly competitive e-commerce landscape. From e-receipts to fashion-forward shopbots, technology is sure to continue shaking up the way we spend and how brands build a cult-like following.