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In Pictures: 7 technologies that could revolutionize retail

The retail world is evolving, thanks to these technologies.

  • Retailers have an arsenal of technology at their disposal that could both improve their customers' shopping experience and save them money by increasing efficiency. Although some of these technologies are still years away from practical use, each is expected to have some impact on the retail world in the coming years.

  • Indoor mapping Another option to help shoppers find products within a store is indoor mapping. A handful of smartphone apps provide GPS-like capabilities that big box stores can employ, including the ability to search for specific products and find them in the store with turn-by-turn directions.

  • Sensors Internet-connected sensors can help retailers in multiple ways. Sensors can promote certain offers or sales to shoppers when they're near them and send promotions directly to their phones. And sensors embedded on store shelves can monitor stock for each specific item and automatically alert the store's inventory and logistics departments when stock is running low.

  • 3D printing Retail is one of the industries expected to see the biggest impact from 3D printing. Even though consumer use of 3D printing is still sparse, a handful of services have emerged that offer to print customers’ designs and send them the finished product. Once fully capable 3D printers become affordable enough for consumers to buy, the technology could fundamentally change the way retailers sell products to consumers, not to mention how they handle intellectual property.

  • Big data analytics The mountain of data retailers have on customers' shopping habits will only get bigger as consumers become more connected. Analytics will become more important, helping retailers sharpen their pricing strategies and create personalized offers for highly specific groups of customers.

  • Mobile payments For consumers, the smartphone may soon replace the traditional wallet. For retailers, consumers' smartphones may actually replace the cash register. Continued growth in mobile payment capabilities could soon blur the lines between online and in-person shopping, enabling customers to pay for their purchases from their mobile devices rather than waiting in line at cash registers.

  • Videoconferencing Another retail innovation already touted by Amazon, videoconferencing can help bring customer service efforts to a new level. As Amazon showed in commercials for its Kindle Fire HDX tablet, customers with questions or concerns about a specific product are now able to contact support representatives via video chat. This could be a big help for assembly or tutorials for new products, and could ultimately result in more satisfied and loyal customers.

  • Social media Although retail brands are no strangers to social media, the technology is likely to become far more useful to retailers in the coming years. Last July, Vision Critical released a study that found 40% of 6,000 respondents had purchased a product after saving a social media post where they found it. As payment processing technology improves and consumers become more entrenched in social media, this figure is likely to grow, and retailers will find much more value in social media.

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