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Charles Dickens describes A Christmas Carol’s Ghost of Christmas Future in frightening detail.

The phantom moves “slowly, gravely, silently,” he writes, scattering “gloom and mystery” wherever it travels.

Spooky stuff.

But the scariest thing about the apparition is what it shows Ebenezer Scrooge: a world where people ignore – even celebrate – the death of the story’s cold-hearted protagonist.

I’d like to think that if a Ghost of Retail Future existed, it’d be a more comforting presence – one that would illustrate what retailers could achieve by embracing the latest innovations.

At home: Meet your customer’s every need with connectivity

The Ghost of Retail Future would begin its visit by demonstrating how you could better engage your customers at home using the Internet of Things (IoT), conversational commerce, augmented reality, and machine learning.

The ghost might show you a busy father – let’s call him Bob Cratchit – scrambling to make breakfast for his kids. His three oldest want cereal. His three youngest ask for eggs and bacon. Bob’s got just enough ingredients to fix everyone’s breakfast, but what’s he going to do tomorrow?

Fortunately, Bob has a connected refrigerator. A touch screen on the fridge lets him create a digital grocery basket. He can even communicate with the fridge using his voice. And through the power of IoT, Bob could send his order to a local grocery store and pick up the food on his way home from a long day at Scrooge’s office.

Now, let’s say Bob’s at the store, and he suspects he’s left something off his grocery list. Augmented reality would enable him to peek inside his fridge using his mobile device to confirm he’s got everything he needs for tomorrow’s breakfast.

Finally, machine learning can help the Cratchits anticipate what groceries they need before they even run out. The connected fridge could automatically add a dozen eggs or a pound of bacon to their grocery list because it’s learned that Tiny Tim enjoys a hearty breakfast each morning.

In the store: Empower your staff and create a retail romance with your shoppers

Next, the Ghost of Retail Future would show you how your business could use IoT and cloud-based honing solutions to deliver amazing in-store shopping experiences for your customers.

If Emily Cratchit, Bob’s wife, places an order online and chooses to pick up her items from your discount store in person, your employees would receive an alert when she’s approaching, allowing them to greet her by name as she walks through the door. They’d also have access to her personal preferences and buying history so they could suggest additional items she might consider purchasing.

As Emily walks through the store, you could send special offers directly to her mobile device. These alerts would inform her of any appealing sales based on her location within the store. In the pharmacy, for instance, she might receive a notification that the deodorant she uses is currently 20% off.

Next, in the shoe department, Emily is curious how a new pair of high heels would look on her, but she doesn’t have time to slip out of her sneakers and try them on. Fortunately, your retailer has a mobile app that lets Mrs. Cratchit visualize the high heels on her feet and even customize the color or style of the footwear.

When leaving the store, Emily doesn’t have to wait in a long line for a register to open up. Your retailer uses seamless mobile checkout – so your customers can walk into your store, grab what they need, and go.

On the go: Ensure your retailer is everywhere your customer is

The Ghost of Retail Future would conclude its visit by offering you a glimpse of how to engage with customers in the moment, no matter where they are, through mobile technology.

Say Bob Cratchit wants to take his boys to a ballgame. Before the game, he uses his phone to purchase tickets. During the seventh-inning strength, he uses his phone to order a jersey from the stadium’s on-site store. After his hometown team emerges victorious, he uses his phone to book a flight to the club’s upcoming playoff game.

Customers today are constantly engaging with retailers on their mobile devices. You need to engage back. And based on past purchasing data, you can easily predict items your consumers may be interested in.

After Bob buys his tickets, perhaps he receives a $5 coupon for the concession stand. Or maybe while he’s browsing his social media feed during a break in the action, he comes across a sponsored ad for a team ballcap. Or it’s possible that when he makes travel arrangements for the postseason, he gets an offer from a retailer in the host city to have team gear delivered directly to his hotel.

‘Tis the season to be innovative

Under no circumstance should these innovations have you yelling, “Bah! Humbug!”

By leveraging the power of these technologies, your retailer can create a convenient customer experience – and help you earn your customers’ undying loyalty.

And, truth be told, you don’t need a visit from the Ghost of Retail Future to understand that.

Join us at the National Retail Forum’s 2018 conference and EXPO at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York City on January 14–16 to check out these and other exciting tech innovations in action.

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