What will the shopping experience of the future look and feel like?

E-commerce and online shopping have already disrupted the traditional path to purchase – that was just the first wave. Now throw in virtual reality, in-store robots and deliveries by drones and high street shopping is set to be a multi-sensory experience, limited only by the imagination of what’s possible.

But what will this future mean for the millions employed in the retail industry across Asia? How will the jobs of waiters, store cashiers and supervisors, and warehouse and logistics managers change?

In the first part of our Digital Trends series, we looked at fintech and disruption within the world of finance.

In this second part, we look at six trends set to re-define the future of the retail industry — and how that will influence retail jobs and skills of the future.

1. Beacon networks

beacon network, otherwise known as Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) applications, allows any brand, retailer, app, or platform to understand exactly where a customer is in the physical brick-and-mortar shop, and then deliver a personalised experience to him or her. In Bengaluru city in India, startup Interaction One has deployed over 300 beacons to create an Internet of Things (IoT) enabled shopping district. The beacons allow retailers to send real-time notifications of new products, deals, and discounts in the consumers’ immediate area. In-store heat maps of traffic flow, mobile payments and shopper behaviour analytics are other potential applications.

2. Augmented reality

In 2012, Chinese online e-commerce store Yihaodian launched 1,000 virtual stores overnight in some of China's most strategic and iconic destinations. Through the use of location-based augmented reality on smartphones, shoppers would be directed to the nearest virtual store, “enter” it like a normal store and choose from a thousand products on virtual shelves, much like how the global Pokemon phenomenon awakened the world to how AR could enhance the retail experience.

Sisi Yang, manager (Retail and Sourcing), Michael Page Chinasaid while AR retail technology in China is still very nascent because it’s costly to implement, she’s starting to see a demand for skills higher up the value chain.  

“Brands are asking themselves, ‘How do you move customers from offline to online and vice versa, while using digital platforms to both retain and communicate with the customer throughout the whole process in a cost-effective way? With this growing investment in AR, we are seeing a high demand for candidates with strong business development and product management skills. This will naturally lead to a decrease in demand for store sales, promotional staff and other junior positions,” said Yang.
 

3. Virtual reality

In May 2016, eBay partnered with department giant Myer in Australia to launch a virtual reality shop which could be accessed through existing VR headsets like Samsung Gear VR or through free 20,000 Google Cardboards glasses called “Shopticals”. The virtual shop showcased 3D models for the top 100 products in each shopping category and users put items into their virtual shopping cart by simply staring at them for a few seconds.  

Leela Lewis, director (Digital, Retail and Marketing in Victoria) for Michael Page Australiasaid, “eBay and Myer are leading the charge with their first VR showrooms. We’ve also seen other retailers like New Balance invest in virtual changing rooms that allow customers to purchase products through an interactive screen. VR is still very much an area of development but having said that, US start-up Magic Leap are reportedly 12-18 months away from launching an exciting VR concept that may replace all screens in the future.”

4. Store robots

In Japan, a humanoid robot named Pepper has been serving customers at Softbank stores and at Nestlé, Nissan, and Carrefour in Japan for the past year. Pepper is able to read emotions with sensors in his eye sockets and is able to talk, move and communicate with customers. But future applications of Pepper could include managing customer data (favourite colour, design and size), inventory stock checks and point-of-sale payment — all done more efficiently, with zero fatigue or demands for more pay or shorter working hours.

Cindy Liu, manager (Marketing) for Michael Page Japansaid, “Domestic retailers are increasingly using Pepper to greet customers or provide direction/information to customers on the floor.  We only see them in limited locations and customers still tend to go to humans for help but we do a major hiring trend for people with data analytics and project management skills”.

5. Drone delivery

In 2014, Coca Cola used drones in a viral marketing video to deliver drinks to high-rise construction site workers in Singapore. Singpost, Singapore's national mail and delivery company, started testing delivery by drones last year. Amazon Prime and DHL have also been testing automated drone deliveries. It’s not too hard to imagine a future city skyline dotted with drones, each on its way to deliver a package to a home or business. To facilitate pick-ups of these packages, each business or home will have a designated common landing area, such as an open rooftop or window space.

Anurag Garg, manager (Technology and Marketing), Michael Page Singapore said, “Current drone applications include aerial photography, video shoots, measurement, navigation, surveillance and logistics delivery. In many markets, regulation -- both for legal and security reasons -- around airspace will mature. Already, we see drone companies successfully partnering a range of companies for commercial purposes like fire-fighting, thermal imaging and even Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping.”  

He added the Asian drone market, currently dominated by Shenzhen-based DJI  and French-based  Parrot, would accelerate demand for retail marketers able to operate in omni-channel environments.

“You don't need someone who just develops a mobile app or website, you need someone who knows how to integrate the mobile app with the payment platform and also with the POS at your site. Right now, there’s huge demand for digital and performance marketing managers… that's going to change in the next 2-3 years. You’re going to see demand for skills for very specific platforms or devices, like drones, and for technical managers with very specific skillsets,” he said.

6. Digital wallets

Alibaba smashed its own previous sales record on 2016 Singles Day (Nov 11), as the Chinese e-commerce behemoth registered U$17 billion in sales within 24 hours -- 82% of orders coming from  a mobile device. MasterCard's 2016 Mobile Shopping Survey estimates nearly half of all respondents in Asia made a purchase using their smartphone in the past three months. While making payments is now as simple as a wave of your smartphone, the evolution of Near Field Technology (NFC) could one day allow shoppers to walk out the store, with your item electronically tagged and charged to your mobile wallet, as exemplified by the newly unveiled Amazon Go concept store.

Jacqueline Qin, associate director (Digital, E-commerce, Marketing) for Michael Page China,  said, “Digital wallets and mobile payments is just the beginning. Mobility is the key word… this is part of the evolution of Internet of Things (IoT) technology. In terms of skillsets required, many of the candidates don’t even exist in the market right now! What we know is they must have the right mindset – to be open to learn and to be creative about new ways of thinking. The ability to digest and analyse data and convert that data for a commercial purpose, that’s also going to be key.”

Abigail Browne, director, Page Executive (Southeast Asia)echoed the same sentiment. While retail shops and shopping malls will still be around for a long time to come, she said the retail industry needs to embrace change and constantly focus on improving the customer experience.

 “Digital can be exciting and drive innovation, but it doesn’t appeal to everyone or every situation… many people will still want to go into the store and experience products. Digital, however, does drive retailers to really focus on the benefit of their store to customers – for example, service levels, in-store experience and technical expertise of products.”

Our Global Retail Study contains the latest trends in retail recruitment and salary forecasts across 10 countries. Come speak to us about the latest retail positions available.  

More on our Digital Trends series 
Part 1:  4 fintech trends transforming recruitment in Asia