Blog Post - Hugh Fletcher, Mar 8 2017

ZERO-UI: Why it matters for online retailers

ZERO-UI: Why it matters for online retailers

Hugh Fletcher - Global Head of Consultancy at Salmon, a Wunderman Commerce Company, discusses ZERO-UI, what it is and why it could be the next big thing in online retail.

Ever since technology became an influence in the retail sector, vendors have pondered how to best embrace the opportunities that digitally-driven platforms offer. But, while some retailers struggle to see the value in a strong omnichannel offering, others innovate past what is now a simple online service.

Zero User Interface (Zero-UI) utilises human senses and actions to initiate physical instances. It doesn’t rely on screens but offers a much more natural, integrated experience. Zero-UI has a massive appeal because it creates an experience that is based on human intricacies.

The Rise of Zero-UI

It is no longer enough to just have a strong omnichannel that offers the perfect matrimony of traditional high-street stores and online. New technologies like virtual shopping, the connected fridge and Zero-UI are creating entirely new opportunities that cannot be ignored.

Personalisation is key because it familiarises us with our everyday life. We can see the origins of this technology in Siri and Cortana, but Amazon Echo is striving to take this one step further. Voice control eliminates the need for a physical interface, and could perfectly and seamlessly slot into our lives. In a way, it is a technology that could see current technology become extinct!

The rise of technology has only matched the shopper’s need for a more immediate, convenient and speedy shopping service. The increase of online has been driven by the ubiquity of mobile shopping, and what retailers often forget is the huge opportunity that the user’s phone, laptop and now voice interfaces offer.

Up to this point screens have dominated technology and everything it revolves around, but that may well be about to change.

The emergence of the connected world, and data, will bring forth a connection via voice, movement and quite possibly the mind. Can you imagine a world where shoppers use thoughts and ideas to guide their entire shopping experience? This idealistic world, although foreign now, might not be that far-fetched and the age of Zero-UI is creeping up on us.

Data is the key to unlocking the Zero-UI door

When it comes to the customer, data and technology go hand in hand. Take Google’s Home device that has the power to play music, set calendar notifications and search for directions while identifying the route with the least traffic. What Google has designed is a device that can learn and develop using data.

Image credit: Google

Image credit: Google

Consumers’ data is what makes it personal and practical; the tech captures Zero-UI in a very simple way. With connected devices becoming the norm in the home, shoppers will grow to favour the idea of virtual personal assistants that can benefit their lives.

Amazon Echo is a prime example of consumers accepting a world that is lead without screens. A retailer will never have a successful screen-less platform unless they can clearly show the consumer how vital data is.

If a customer is to seamlessly switch between all devices they will have to accept that retailers need data, and this will only be achieved if vendors break down the perception that businesses just want to collect information for business-driven reasons.

In retail, Amazon quite obviously leads the industry with its Dash button and checkout-less Go store (not forgetting its drone delivery service), but it still has some way to go before it can universally employ a connected smart city.

Salmon’s own Programmatic Commerce report found that consumers will be ready for the concept of automatic purchasing through IoT devices; shoppers would use a set of pre-determined characteristics to facilitate the buying of goods. The visionary idea is one that 57% of UK shoppers agreed they would be ready for by 2018.

However, much like Zero-UI, the idea would never work without a willingness to share data. Imagine that a user wants to re-order everyday necessities like milk, coffee beans and toilet roll. By inputting raw data for your preferences, devices would be able to identify when stocks run low and re-order the products.

This is a great example of data being turned into information, and technology then facilitating that change. Data can help merge the boundaries — ecommerce, voice, in-store and beyond — and push them even further than before. Whether it is Zero-UI or Programmatic Commerce, embracing the new technologies that surround businesses isn’t a choice but a necessity in the technology-driven world.

What can emerging technologies teach retailers?

It is no surprise that Amazon has grown to become the globally recognised leader in the field.

To think that Jeff Bezos is in constant competition with Elon Musk over which multi-billionaire has the best space rocket is completely mind-boggling, but serves as the perfect example of ‘Aggressive Horizontality’. This is the idea that business leaders disrupt previously never-entered sectors which could soon grow past its trend status and become a threat to all emerging organisations.

As traditional sectors breakdown, consumers will soon find that speaking into a mobile to connect to Amazon and order groceries (don’t forget about Amazon Fresh), will become the norm. And this process wouldn’t apply to just any product, but the exact desired product, simply because the correct data would have been inputted.

As emerging technologies develop into tangible systems, retailers will have to be savvy and meet the needs of the ever-changing shopper.

Take the Internet of Things for example; so much has been said about its potential implementation — from existing devices such as Nest and British Gas’s Hive, to entire smart city concepts — that it’s truly difficult to gauge which business will be the first to create an IoT network. Gartner predicts that there will be over 20 million connected “things” by 2020, and vendors must realise that this is only 3 years away.

As the home becomes more and more connected, Zero-UI in online retail will offer a smoother, more natural link from home to store and, crucially for vendors, the point of purchase.

Trends show us what to look out for, but retail leaders instigate the trend

Technology is always evolving and shops must recognise that they too must alter their offering to cater to the demanding needs of the modern-day consumer.

‘The New Retail Reality’, a report released by Barclays, found that British retailers specifically face rapid change and must adapt to new technology such as virtual reality and robotics, and not underestimate the physical shopping experience; global Chinese online retailer Alibaba proved this by moving into the high-street, the very industry it helped disrupt!

The retail sector is very competitive and brand loyalty will continue to grow in importance too. Retail brands that embrace technology like Zero-UI and Programmatic Commerce can ‘lock-in’ a customer and ‘lock-out’ other brands – this is where the consumer remains loyal to a single brand.

Will voice technology be the next big trend in retail? Vendors can’t afford to wait around for the answer — they must take the initiative now and make Zero-UI in online retail the next successful, technology-driven idea.

Download Salmon’s 20 for 20 trends book for a view on the high impact trends set to drive change across sectors, touching on experience, society, technology and competition.