Monday, 21 December 2020 09:12


By Raymond Ma, General Manager, Australia and New Zealand, Alibaba Cloud Intelligence

Guest Opinion: After what has been a turbulent year, the festive season is the ideal opportunity to return to some of our most simple pleasures with family and friends. With consumer spending and shopping peaking over the Christmas period, it also represents an opportunity to reflect on the impact COVID-19 has had on the retail sector and how this has influenced the way we shop for the holidays.

While Aussies would typically now be flocking to bricks and mortar stores, many are avoiding the crowds by switching online. In fact, according to the National Retail Association (*1), thanks to online retail, Australia is predicted to have a record-breaking Christmas season after a whopping $5.3 million in sales was injected into the economy during recent Black Friday sales, with $1.8 billion generated from online sales.

Despite large sales volumes, the question is - can online shopping really convey the magic of Christmas the same way as the festive atmosphere in traditional bricks and mortar stores?

Thanks to an influx of technologies that are already available to online retailers, the signs are promising. These innovations can be used to transform online shopping - especially in time for Boxing Day sales - not only to slow the crowds but make shopping safer and more fun for everyone.

A virtual welcome

Much like chatbots, online shopping experiences can now be enhanced through the use of virtual shop assistants. This technology has been developed to understand and interact with customers and bring a human element to the online experience. The virtual shop assistant can bring products to life, by explaining product details and responding to certain questions such as what brand is best, which sizing and colour options are available.

To further build on this, it can be paired with the use of live streaming, which offers real-time translation services. This technology can support simultaneous live streaming translation from English to Chinese, Russian, Spanish and French, making it easier for customers to choose the perfect product or gift.

Customers can also use an image search function to further simplify finding the right products. Rather than typing a vague description into a search box like ‘blue t-shirt’, this technology enables users to find an item that looks similar to the image they’ve uploaded.

Like it? Try it on

Once an item has been chosen, it’s always best to try it on. According to a survey (*2) conducted by ME Bank, Aussie shoppers are wasting up to $384 a year by not returning unwanted online purchases. The survey also found that 70 per cent of participants admitted to not returning items that didn’t fit, were the wrong colour or quality.

Now thanks to augmented reality, customers can ‘try on’ different outfits online, avoiding making a wrong purchase. The technology can be applied to beauty items, such as lipsticks, eyelashes, shoes, glasses, nail polish and hair dye, to create a highly realistic representation of how those accessories may suit the person trying them on. Once ‘dressed’ the images can be shared with family and friends for additional feedback before purchasing.

An experience to be shared by all

Meanwhile, one technology that’s certainly set to bring the family together around their connected devices is 3D virtual shopping. Advanced 3D modelling technology has enabled the creation of virtual 3D products, adding a whole new dimension to viewing products online. This is a great opportunity for family and friends to look at the available products together, chat about them and decide who wants what for Christmas. For those looking to do some home renovation over the holidays, they can “step” in and “walk” around the virtual 3D showrooms created by furniture brands to pick the items they want. 

Christmas is also all about inclusivity, and that means that online shopping should be, too. Thanks to great advances in Optical Character Recognition (OCR) technology and visual AI, visually impaired shoppers can also navigate sites with ease, not just this Christmas, but all year round. OCR makes understanding images and videos easier, which means shopping is more accessible and enjoyable for blind and partially-sighted customers.

The fun and stress free way to shop

One of the biggest challenges of purchasing online for Christmas is the concern that parcels won’t arrive in time. In fact, Australia Post (*3) announced their cut off dates to receive gifts by Christmas would be earlier than previous years due to the surge in online shopping.

One of the most complex and expensive parts of deliveries for couriers is negotiating the ‘last mile’ to your front door, or another drop off point. Now, thanks to technology, that concern can be addressed using highly advanced delivery robots. Powered by the latest AI and autonomous-driving capabilities, the robots can select the optimal delivery route, allowing them to manoeuvre easily, even in the most complex road and traffic environments.

Not only does its efficiency and reliability give online shoppers peace of mind, it assists delivery companies by taking some pressure off delivery personnel so they too can spend more time with their families over the Christmas holidays.

There's no doubt that Christmas is different this year, but there's no reason that online shopping should be less magical. Technology can optimise a customer’s online experience to make it more engaging and fun, as well as one that can be shared with the family and friends - just as Christmas should be.

(*1) Four-day bargain shopping bonanza to reap over $5 billion

(*2) Online shopping return habits costing Aussies $384 a year

(*3) Australia Post Christmas delivery deadline coming up soon on December 12 (2020 cut off dates); Christmas Day delivery cut-off dates every Aussie needs to know (2019 cut off dates)

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