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Pandemic accelerates tech adoption among consumers: How retailers are keeping up

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Metaverse, NFT, AI, VR, crypto, these once seemingly farfetched tech concept are ubiquitous in this year’s CES, taking place in Vegas and attended by thousands of attendees all over the world from the comfort of their homes. If you are still skeptical about virtual reality, this is your cue to take a moment and realize, you are already in it.

Unsurprisingly, these new buzzwords have found their way to almost every conversation/keynote speech we have heard in the past three days, across all verticals. Retail/E-tail is no exception here. But are they more than just jargons? How are consumers reacting to them and simultaneously, how can brands and marketers leverage these emerging technology to improve their retail strategy?

While there is no denying that technology has become irreplaceable in our lives and has transformed the way we buy and interact with retail brands. What is truly astonishing, as cited by presenters from various research and studies, is how quickly consumers are embracing new technology. From soaring digital payments to experiential retail experiences via AR/VR, it seems as though the pandemic has accelerated tech adoption among consumers by several years - this does not just mean consumers are leveling up their tech gadget purchases but that they are increasingly demanding more personalized treatment and greater flexibility when it comes to their shopping experiences.

For retail brands and marketers, this means they must adapt just as quickly to stay ahead of the curve and keep up with their customers. we are hearing encouraging stories of pioneers in the retail space who are leveraging the likes of AI and NFT to improve customer experience and create unique, authentic connections with their loyal customers.

Instacart’s chief operating officer, Asha Sharma touched on how Covid completely disrupted Instacart’s business model and forced them to pivot and eventually came out on top. “We had to get very, very good at predicting and understanding fulfillment rates, availability, and tuning our engines to do that,” Sharma said. To do just that, Instacart tapped into machine learning and even acquired tech platform Caper AI, to help customer find items more efficiently and bypass long checkout lines.

Estée Lauder brand Clinique became the first beauty brand in 2021 to introduce NFT as part of its reward program for its “top loyalists”. The brand’s super fans were invited to enter to win by sharing their “stories of optimism” on social media platforms like Instagram, TikTok & Twitter and the top three winners received free products for 10 years along with one of three editions of an NFT artwork, called “Meta Optimist”. Starting out as a marketing test to see “if people care about NFT?” while incentivizing loyalty program participation, the Clinique NFT experiment ultimately not only stimulated a wave of consumer engagement and press, but also proved to marketers that the demand is out there and it is across all demographics - male, female, young and old . Liz Bacelar, Estée Lauder’s Global Innovation Lead, spoke of metaverse and NFT with infectious enthusiasm at the CES panel, “Metaverse is an opportunity for Retail and Brands need to figure out the steps to get there!”

This year’s CES is filled with riveting stories like this. What is the takeaway? Despite the disheartening reality that this pandemic seems to be never ending and the world has yet returned to normal, consumers and businesses have shown just how resilient we are as a society. We adapt quickly. The pandemic might have caused inconveniences but it also forced us to pivot on our feet and in turn, learn how to use and invent new technology to make our lives easier.

For brands and marketers who are eager to test, Forrester VP and principal analyst Martha Bennett might had the most objective opinion at the show. Bennett gave kudos to the trends, saying “everything to do with NFTs is still in the experimental phase, and without experimentation we won't see progress” but added, “It's still niche though, she said, and will need to do a lot of uphill climbing to attract those who aren't already involved in the community.” Brands should decide for themselves on what and when to test these still niche innovations but you do, make sure there is a clear objective and measurement plan to follow. And if you are hesitant to be the early bird, keep your eyes and ears open as things are happening fast in Web 3.0.

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