2013: A Tech Odyssey

How the year’s innovations will reverberate through 2014 and beyond

Remember when we had “cell” phones and email accounts we accessed solely on our desktop? Virtual resources and smart gadgetry now play major roles in our daily lives—often from the palms of our hands. 2013 will go down as the year of temporary social media (see: Snapchat, where messages self-destruct, Mission Impossible–style, in 10 seconds); design software for 3-D printers that uses artificial intelligence capabilities (really!); and pseudo-spectacles that take pictures, conjure maps, and tell you the weather. Below, five 2013 developments poised to affect retailers for years to come.

VIDEO APPS

Videos that showcase beautiful jewelry are like candy for bling-loving consumers—and millennials love sharing video on social media. Two notable video apps that debuted this year: Vine, which lets users edit six-second videos while filming; and Instagram Video, which offers a longer length (15 seconds) and the ability to edit the latest bit in a long stream of clips. Both present turnkey platforms for retailers looking to connect with clients, hype new product or upcoming events, or even spotlight the fun, friendly personalities of employees.

VIRTUAL TRY-ONS

As the multichannel retail concept continues to evolve, the idea of trying on items virtually is gaining steam. Marquee brands Tiffany and Swarovski came early to the party in 2012, offering try-on opportunities within proprietary apps. A host of websites and apps that allow consumers to test-drive products in absentia popped up in 2013. The Swivel app, for example, acts as a virtual dressing room, allowing users to view and compare looks from all angles, then create polls for friends to vote on outfits.

SMART ACCESSORIES

Very soon, we’ll all likely be wearing our phones. Google Glass, the first-ever face-mounted computer, and smartwatches such as the Pebble and the Samsung Galaxy Gear (which connects with a smartphone via Bluetooth) are poised to alter how consumers shop online and in store. Using wearable devices, shoppers will be able to take photos via quick voice commands. Encouraging shoppers to call out (or tag) your store on Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram is imperative. ­Creating a robust social media presence is more vital than ever: You need to be on those platforms so you can get tagged in posts!

VIRTUAL POINT-OF-SALE SYSTEMS

Call it the cloud effect. Square’s SquareStand, which debuted last summer, was the first POS system to feature a stationary mount for an iPad that integrates a credit card reader and USB ports, allowing retailers to sync up cash register accoutrements (receipt printers, cash drawers, bar code scanners). The system uses a proprietary app, so the data exist in the ether as well as on your Earth-bound system.

THE TECH-FRIENDLY STORE

When it comes to shoppers using technology in your store—snapping pics, surfing the Web, posting to social media—resistance is futile…and bad for business. The tech-friendly retail model encourages those device-heavy ­habits. Millennial retailer Urban Outfitters installed iPhone charging stations in its units this past summer, allowing shoppers to juice up free of charge. And Manhattan furnishings mecca ABC Carpet & Home recently took hashtagging to the next level by posting a sign reading “Instagram: ­#rawabchome”—encouraging customers to tag images of products in its Raw collection of home decor items.