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The days of going online to buy the next addition to your wardrobe, a power bank for your laptop or even your groceries are passé. Why open up a laptop and browse through a bunch of tabs when you can just look at something you like and buy it instantly? OK, I might be exaggerating a little bit here. But the reality of wearable technology becoming as commonplace as mobile phones is not too far. In fact, just as mobile phones have become the next big thing for online shopping, wearables are the superstars in waiting for the burgeoning retail sector, both online and offline.
Wearable tech by the numbers
By the end of this year, we’ll see about 75-million wearable devices being shipped as against 33-million in 2014. Compared to just a year ago, our accessory wardrobes boast of eight times more smartwatches and double the number of fitness trackers. What’s more, according to a survey by Ipsos in late 2014, nearly one in five users reported their intentions of buying a wearable tech device in the next twelve months. That’s a lot of smartwatches, fitness trackers, smart glasses and their ilk. With Apple revealing its Apple Watch to rave reviews, things in the wearables sector are only going to heat up even more.
The different applications that wearable tech currently offers are currently geared towards communication (smartwatches and glasses), lifestyle improvements (activity trackers), health (heart rate monitors and fitness trackers) and entertainment (virtual reality). However, this is set to expand into more business-oriented applications as the devices become more pervasive and more compatible with existing technology. Wearable tech looks set to not just improve user experience, but also contribute directly to corporate bottom lines.
However, corporate bottom lines don’t mean a thing to the average Joe on the street. So what does all this mean for you and me? Here’s what we think.
Technology you can converse with
The USP of wearable tech is how intimate each device becomes with its user. The depth of data that these devices gather is nearly impossible to obtain by other means – be it health records, online browsing data, food choices or activity cycles. By knowing the pulse, so to speak, of the wearers, wearable devices offer businesses a wealth of information that can be used to personalize their offerings to suit each individual’s unique penchants and predilections.
A device like Tile that you could hitch on to your luggage could help Starbucks spot you at the airport and send you an offer for half-priced coffee that expires in the next 10 minutes. A smart vest from Hexoskin that you wear for your morning run could send your body measurements to an online bespoke tailor to stitch a custom made business suit to wear at that all-important conference.
In other words, wearable tech is poised to stand in as your digital assistant – your very own Jeeves, if you like.
Touch & feel comes to online user experience
One of the fundamental drawbacks of everyday ecommerce is the absence of the physical pleasures of touch and trial. Amazon may offer product videos, Warby Parker may offer virtual try-ons and home try-ons (which not every retailer can afford), but seeing yourself in 3D is still far out for even the most forward thinking online retailer.
Virtual Reality headsets like the Samsung Gear VR and the Zeiss VR One are ready to step in and solve this little conundrum. With these devices already on the market, it’s a matter of time before ecommerce catches on to the opportunity and allows users to put one of them on to “try out” a pair of jeans before completing the purchase online. Travel giant Thomas Cook has already installed Oculus Rift headsets in their stores in the UK, Germany and Belgium. Potential travelers can now walk into Thomas Cook stores to experience exactly how their travel destination will be using an Oculus Rift before they book their holiday package.
The best part? An almost WYSIWYG experience for the buyer and fewer returns for the seller. High-fives all around!
Painless checkouts, quicker fulfillment
The dreaded endless queue at the cash register is what drives a lot of buyers to go online for their retail therapy. However, ecommerce sites don’t help the situation too much either. With longwinded forms that need to be filled out and information about everything including your firstborn’s weight to be parted with, most online store checkouts give you flattened fingertip syndrome.
Wearable tech offers a shining ray of hope here. The soon-for-sale Apple Watch will let you simply push a button and wave your wrist in front of store POS systems to securely pay for your shopping binges. Not an Apple fan boy? Go for the super cool looking NFC Ring instead. Mobile wallets like Apple Pay, Google Wallet and Venmo are enablers that have come into being at just the right time to make your payments a complete breeze.
Amazon leads the ecommerce charge on wearable tech with its Anticipatory Shipping patent. The future of shipping and fulfilment, according to Amazon, lies in the business knowing their customers better than they know themselves.
Businesses in the future will probably foresee user needs and ship the relevant products to locations near those individuals a la Google Now. Amazon already plans to have trucks carry anticipatory supplies to user locations based on insights it has gathered from their shopping behavior. From drone deliveries to anticipatory shipping, online shopping is going to become a lot more fun.
Healthier shopping thanks to wearable tech
Not only do wearable devices have the power to help you shop, they have the potential to help you shop healthier too.
Again, with health and fitness trackers forming a huge chunk of the wearables market, sending your vital stats to your phone is easier than eating pie. With data about your workouts gained via FitBit, a restaurant could showcase healthy food options on a homepage personalized to your tastes. You could get a notification on your smartwatch as you roam through a Target or Walmart prompting you to buy that yoga mat based on your plummeting flexibility levels.
You could also put your canine buddy’s health under the scanner with the Whistle tracking device and activity monitor. Not only can you now literally see the world from your dog’s eyes, the activity monitor will tell you his favorite games and what toys you should buy for him to keep him happy and healthy.
Coming back to the title of this piece, you could actually buy a shoe with your watch. Sensoria’s socks and anklet stay one step ahead of your fitness already and can tell you when it’s time to buy a new running shoe or which shoe would suit your running style the best. Time for a run then?
Image: Robert Tepper Graphic Design