The AI revolution is coming, and it wants to change the way we buy clothes. For anyone who has been paying attention, this should come as no surprise. Now that our smartphones have effectively become extra appendages, people are spending more time shopping by mobile. In fact, 43 percent of people surveyed by Ericsson Consumer & IndustryLab, the research arm of the Swedish telecommunications giant, cop to making weekly purchases on their phone. But while that number will continue to spike globally in the coming years, it’s merely a harbinger of a larger shift in retail, the group said.
In the near future, smartphone users will rely on digital assistants for everything from “aspirational shopping support” to automating everyday household purchases, according to the report, which canvassed the opinions of some 5,000 advanced Internet users, aged 15 to 69, in 10 major cities across the globe.
China, more so than any other country, is willing to embrace this new retail reality. Fifty-nine percent of those that Ericsson surveyed in Shanghai, for instance, said they prefer to shop with their smartphone, compared with only 12 percent in Tokyo. And more than half of respondents in Shanghai think augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) will redefine clothes shopping, compared with a fifth of those in Tokyo and San Francisco.
Mostly, consumers want their hands held as they navigate the unimaginable surfeit of options that online shopping makes available. Sixty-four percent of smartphone shoppers, for instance, said they need help with comparing prices, while 48 percent prefer to see only choices that are relevant to them. The 43 percent of respondents who hanker for a digital assistant expect AI to become so well-versed in their tastes that it can deliver a tailored shopping experience.
The Internet of Things
Shopping apps will just be another node in the so-called Internet of Things (IoT), where billions of devices are linked through the online ether. Some believe brick-and-mortar stores might even become obsolete. Certainly, 64 percent of AR and VR users anticipate that people will shop exclusively through their handheld devices in as little as three years, the survey noted.
“While fascinating in their own right, fast-changing consumer shopping behaviors are important to understand for anyone involved in 5G, smart homes, consumer IoT and artificial intelligence,” said Michael Björn, head of research at Ericsson Consumer & IndustryLab.
But although smartphone shoppers have a 34 percent lower preference for patronizing physical stores, the social aspect of commerce won’t be going away—at least not overnight, the study said. Shopping, after all, isn’t solely about amassing material goods.
Forty percent of smartphone shoppers conceded to frequenting shopping malls, just to hang out with friends. Even in smartphone-savvy Shanghai, 43 percent of respondents said they visit malls because they “enjoy looking at everything.”
Still, the report cautions that the role of the store must change if brick-and-mortar plans to survive. Indeed, 66 percent of current AR and VR users think that technology will spur retailers to whittle their floor space within three years. Similarly, 72 percent of AR and VR users say pop-up shops will become mainstream in three years’ time, enabling stores to go where their customers are.
At the same time, more than half of respondents believe that the effect of fewer people visiting stores will correspond with an increase in home deliveries. That’s where new opportunities can come in.
“When consumers start employing AI to automate everyday purchasing, this will create demand for IoT-enabled sensors as well as a need for people to connect appliances in their homes,” Björn said.