From 2D barcodes to AI: Navigating the trends impacting retail in 2024

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The retail landscape continues its dynamic evolution, driven by the unprecedented array of choices available to consumers and heightened reliance on comprehensive product content throughout the shopping journey, both in-store and online. In fact, nearly 85% of consumers value product content over brand recognition.

As we enter the new year, four trends take center stage, poised to reshape the shopping experience to meet evolving customer needs and revolutionize operations behind the scenes for brands and retailers.

2D barcodes

While adding 2D barcodes to packaging isn’t a novel concept, how brands use this technology has evolved significantly. Beyond merely linking to an informational website, 2D barcodes (commonly called QR codes) now guide consumers to dynamic product detail pages (PDP) with everything from augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality experiences (VR), to ratings and reviews, and food transparency information. 2D barcodes essentially have an unlimited data capacity, which retail brands can use to enable conversion in ways that UPCs can’t. 

Many CPG manufacturers already include QR codes on their packaging, directing consumers to landing pages aimed at transparency. But in the future, we’ll see 2D barcodes become ubiquitous on a variety of products, aligning with a retail landscape where consumers use their phones during nearly half of their shopping trips. In fact, the global supply chain is embracing 2D barcodes. The GS1 US Sunrise 2027 initiative laid out a plan to ensure that any retail point-of-sale system (POS) can scan and process 2D barcodes by the end of 2027. 

Widespread adoption of 2D barcodes will significantly alter how consumers look at packages and the information they can quickly retrieve with their phones without the need for a cumbersome search. The age of on-demand product immersion has arrived.

Digital shelf tags 

2024 will usher in the broader adoption of digital shelf tags across retail stores. Unlike traditional paper tags, these electronic labels connect to the internet, increasing efficiency and versatility. Retailers can display product information like prices, inventory levels and discounts in real time, opening the door to dynamic pricing strategies and more conversions. 

For example, store managers can implement targeted flash sales for particular items or timed happy hour-style promotions to drive store traffic and spur impulse purchases at strategic moments throughout the day. 

Digital shelf tags also reduce the chance of human error in pricing products, which can often lead to lost revenue. Imagine a sale ends, but employees fail to replace the expired discounted price with the original (and higher) amount. An observant customer may take note and request the discounted price. Stores opting not to honor the lower price leave themselves vulnerable to losing the sale — and unhappy customers leaving negative reviews online. 

Digital shelf tags ensure all prices get updated appropriately. And because employees can edit the tags remotely, retailers save time and money on labor costs. 

UGC and reviews 

User-generated content (UGC) and reviews will become more influential and omnipresent in 2024. Traditionally, consumers mainly searched for UGC for products like electronics and cosmetics. Now, the trend is evolving, expanding its relevance to encompass everyday consumer goods, including food products and consumables. 

Nearly 70% of consumers are also using their smartphones to research reviews while shopping in store. If a consumer comes across two similar products, reviews help set those items (and their brands) apart. When social proof signals a favored product, consumers are likelier to try the product themselves. 

Despite a growth in popularity, the retailer perspective on UGC value splits in terms of consumer experience. While a retailer may worry that negative reviews raise doubts about customer experience or service, one in four shoppers still make a purchase even after reading six or more negative product reviews. Brands can use less-than-stellar reviews to their advantage. Reviews provide valuable insights for brands to identify and address product issues and, in turn, strengthen consumer trust.

AI for product content

Generative AI can produce approximations of great imagery, but it has not advanced to a stage where brands can depend on the technology for precise, accurate images for a PDP.

Expect an increasing number of companies to employ AI to create more fact-based graphics like hero imagery in 2024. Marketing teams can upload a front-facing product image and use AI to highlight important product attributes, such as quantity, size and differentiation points. Leveraging AI to bring attributes and features above the fold will urge shoppers to take a closer look. 

Together, these four retail trends reflect the consumer desire for on-demand information, value, connection and efficiency in their shopping experience. By embracing these innovations, brands and retailers build customer trust and ensure continued success, forging a path toward a thriving and future-proof retail environment.

Randy Mercer
Randy is an omnichannel product content expert with over 15 years of industry experience. He leads 1WorldSync’s global product management and solution architecture teams, aligning the company’s portfolio with current customer needs and emerging market trends. A frequent commentator for national and trade media outlets covering retail and ecommerce news, Randy leverages his extensive background in item data and content alignment, e-commerce application development and solution design to guide 1WorldSync’s strategic product roadmap and vision.

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