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  • Writer's pictureMike Hanna

Software and Tech Disrupting the Retail Industry

One industry that has seen massive upheaval within the past decade is retail. Shopping used to involve going to a mall or a brick and mortar store. Today, for an increasing number of consumers, shopping involves browsing their options on a computer or mobile device.

Amazon was the first major disruptor to the retail industry, but there have been other game changers like Canadian software company Shopify, which has allowed millions of entrepreneurs to open up their own online store and engage in the growing business of eCommerce.

Retail will only be changed even more by the Covid-19 Pandemic, which has facilitated more online retail in every area—from consumer discretionaries like apparel and toys to consumer staples like groceries. Let’s take a look at the software and tech trends that are making the biggest changes in the retail industry.

  • Digital Marketing

  • Analytics and Data

  • Augmented and Virtual Reality

  • Cloud Computing

  • Robotics and Automation

Let's take a look at each one now in more depth.

Digital Marketing

With consumers spending an increasing time on Social Media and devouring online content, digital marketing has all but supplanted traditional print and billboard advertising. Digital marketing is a fairly broad term that includes a wide variety of strategies. There is PPC—pay per click ads—offered by platforms like Google and Facebook, and software solutions like Opteo to manage it all. There is email marketing provided by companies like MailChimp and ConstantContact. And with an increasing number of cell phone users worldwide, it’s no surprise that companies like Avocado have ventured into text marketing. But in addition to these more direct forms of marketing, digital marketing includes the storytelling and brand building aspect of content marketing, with pictures, videos, and blog content that creates a certain atmosphere around a product. Marketing and automation software like SproutSocial and HootSuite can help a small business owner achieve the work of an entire marketing team.

Analytics and Data

In the olden days (really, not too long ago) businesses could only rely on surveys and purchasing trends to forecast decision-making. The amount of nuanced information available today to businesses is simply mind-blowing, and can effectively be used to market better. But more than providing the technology to analyze, the analysis software is accessible, and has placed these tools in the hands of businesses of all sizes, and not just Fortune500 companies. Samsung, IBM, and SAP are a few of the big names creating retail analytics software—but there are a huge number of software startups in this space. Many analytics SaaS companies service a particular niche like Wasteless, which reduces organic waste in grocery stores and restaurants. But analytics and data are not just limited to the online experience. In brick and mortar retail locations, beacons will track customer movement—especially those customers who have downloaded the brand app—and analyze customer decision making and trends, along with offering customized discounts.

Augmented and Virtual Reality

One of the biggest challenges that consumers have expressed about online shopping is the inability to see a product in person—for instance, to know how a certain piece of apparel will look on them, or how a piece of furniture will look in their home. Well that’s all about to change with the VR and AR tech developed by companies like Amazon, which allows shoppers to use their mobile devices to see how a certain item might look in the space of their home before buying it. Makeup retailer Sepphoris has developed an app that allows users to try on the look of makeup or other beauty products before buying them. Volvo has used Google Cardboard to give potential buyers a test drive. Chinese eCommerce giant Alibaba and eBay Australia are testing out virtual shopping malls for consumers. An Italian app, ShelfZone, is developing technology that would replicate a brick and mortar’s actual layout for shoppers who are unable to visit the store in person. And in terms of brick and mortar retail layouts, VR and AR can help store designers try out different layouts and gauge customer response, to determine what will make the best shopping experience.

Cloud Computing

Cloud computing has been one of the most disruptive technologies in the retail space. Canadian software company Shopify, Texas-based BigCommerce, San Francisco WooCommerce, and New York City’s Squarespace facilitate online shop management for millions of small business owners. While it’s arguably true that retail giants like WalMart and Amazon have put main street out of business, there has never been a better time for an enterprising individual to open their own store on the internet, and market their products to anywhere in the world. Payment processing solutions like PayPal, Square, and the aforementioned Shopify facilitate online payments. And all the plugins, bells and whistles these businesses can use for data and analytics are also cloud based services. With manufacture on demand services like those offered by Printful, some business owners need nothing other than a laptop to run a business. But cloud computing has not just facilitated a retail disruption of small business owners. Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Alibaba, and other companies are all jockeying to capture as much big-name retail market share as they can in terms of providing cloud solutions to major retailers.

Robotics and Automation

Though this trend is still mostly on the horizon, it’s quite exciting—but will leave some serious questions about supply chain employment. By this point, many brick and mortar retailers from supermarket chain Safeway to catchall retailer Target have leveraged self-checkout technology, which eliminates the need for cashiers. WalMart has played around with shelf-stocking robots, and plans to almost entirely eliminate cashiers in some stores to speed up the checkout process and facilitate the social distancing required by Covid-19. Behind the scenes, companies like Amazon, shipper DHL, and Chinese online retailer have all started using drones for internal business services. In the near future, it’s not hard to imagine that consumer-facing delivery might also be facilitated by drones or automated cars, especially with Amazon’s announcement that they will be acquiring self-driving vehicle developer Zoox. Doubtlessly app technology and IoT will also facilitate real time updates for waiting consumers—so they’ll know when to look out their window for the drone carrying their new Uggs.

What does it all mean for software sales?

The retail industry has many components, and consumer markets are only expanding as regions like Africa, Asia, and South America join the rest of the world in terms of mobile device usage and online retail. Even within the United States, retail tech is rapidly expanding in all the ways we mentioned above, and most likely will continue to see incredible shifts over the next few decades.

This is exciting news for any software sales professional, because hundreds of software and tech startups are popping up to service the retail industry. It can be hard to navigate the landscape of established players and recent tech startups, which is why discussing your options with a software sales headhunter can be beneficial. As a software sales recruiter for several decades, I’m well connected with a number of HR managers at reputable companies, and growing companies as well.

And if you’re looking to hire the software sales talent that can help take your product to the next level or expand into new markets, I can help you there as well, with my network of vetted software sales professionals. Send an email to me at so we can discuss your software sales goals, whether you’re looking for your next software sales job, or looking to hire.

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