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Three Trends in 2020 to Look For

As 2019 wound to a close, we surveyed the Theatro leadership for their new year predictions on everything from emerging technologies to vertical industry trends, big data to workforce enablement, AI, and whether Amazon Go will take over the world. The responses revealed clear convergence around three mega-trends we expect to continue gaining momentum through 2020.

The first is around ambient computing.  Every year our compute power grows and expands into new realms. Our homes are becoming interconnected webs of systems that talk to each other, support our routines, and allow us to keep tabs from afar. Voice recognition has made great strides in the last year, becoming a critical part of how we engage with those systems, thanks to Alexa, Siri, Google Assistant, and others.

Voice technology adoption is therefore our second mega-trend. Whether 2020 will be the year that speech reaches the proverbial tipping point of not remains to be seen, but we do know it’s come a long way in the last year. As voice technology has matured and improved, consumers have become much more comfortable using it, as evidenced by the latest statistics. Comscore’s prediction that half of all online searches will be voice-based by 2020 has been widely quoted, and mobile users are leading the charge. A BrightLocal report found that 74% of smartphone users leveraged voice search at least once a week to find information about local businesses. Theatro’s CEO Chris Todd notes, “voice is a natural interface for human communication, so it’s not surprising to expect keyboards to go the way of the fax machine or the VCR in the next ten years.” Mindmeld established a clear use case in its study that found 61% of consumers use voice when their hands or vision is occupied and typing is not an option – which held a 31% lead over the next motivator, fast results.

But the most exciting mega-trend, in Theatro’s eyes at least, is that these trends are increasingly expanding into our professional lives as well.  Technology adoption curves have shown throughout history that consumer adoption always precedes commercial adoption, and we’re seeing that pattern play out again. Recent announcements from Salesforce and Google indicate accelerating interest and applicability beyond the already strong applications in automotive, healthcare, and banking. “I view it as part of this progression of technology. Computers and software started in the terminal with a keyboard, thanks to Xerox, Parc moved to a mouse and graphic user interface, and then thanks to Steve Jobs, moved to a touchscreen, which I think is probably the dominant form factor for computers nowadays. And voice is really that next step,” commented Bret Taylor, Chief Product Officer at Salesforce, during their announcement of the Einstein Voice Project’s expansion in November.

Retailers give us a particularly interesting case study of an industry poised for transformation as these three trends continue to merge. As we saw during Holiday 2019, the retailers who will win are those who can adopt quickly and execute on omnichannel delivery at scale. Online sales grew 18.8% between November 1 and Christmas Eve according to the WSJ. Buy-online-pick-up-in-store (BOPIS) activity surpassed all expectations before the holidays, and we’ll see a similar pattern as consumers return an estimated $90-95 billion in gifts – many at physical store locations – here after the holiday.

As Walmart and Target demonstrated this season, executing a successfully seamless omnichannel strategy has many moving parts. Enabling technologies, information, and people must be flawlessly coordinated so they can adapt quickly and change on a dime. Connecting disparate systems to automate back-end processes and enable information flow is the key to driving the flexibility, agility, and intelligence needed to make it work. As a result, we expect interconnected, enabling technologies like IoT, mobile connectivity, and speech recognition to become much more commonplace in enterprise retail this year, particularly at the store level, as more organizations strive to connect their online world with the associates in brick and mortar locations and to elevate their in-store customer experiences to the expectations their online stores have set. According to Theatro’s COO Patrick Fitzgerald, “at the end of the day, retail’s winners and losers will be determined by operational execution. Creative experiences and the right assortment help, but having knowledgeable people ready and able to answer questions and meet shoppers’ needs quickly, easily, and accurately will be the ultimate determinant of success in retail.”