Retail Insight Network lists the top five terms tweeted on retail tech in Q4 2021 based on data from GlobalData’s Retail Influencer Platform.

The top trends are the most mentioned terms or concepts among Twitter discussions of more than 150 retail experts tracked by GlobalData’s Retail Influencer platform during the fourth quarter (Q4) of 2021.

1. Supply Chain – 1,770 mentions

Small retailers placing bulk orders to address supply chain issues, clothing and accessories retailer Gap revising its 2021 guidance due to supply chain disruptions, and the measures taken by major US retailers to overcome supply chain issues were among the popular discussions in Q4 2021.

Sapna Maheshwari, a business reporter with the New York Times, shared an article on how small retailers placed bulk orders ahead of the November and December 2021 holiday season fearing potential shortages due to supply chain constraints. Small retailers have been impacted the most due to the Covid-19 pandemic related supply chain issues, factory closures, blocked ports and labour shortages forcing them to make purchase decisions months in advance. Some retailers tried to bypass the supply chain issues by placing orders for materials from within their states. e-commerce company Etsy, for example, gave users the option to filter products by geography and order from vendors within their area to facilitate faster shipping. The early orders placed by businesses, however, placed more strain on the system leading to an increase in material prices. The bulk orders also raised concerns among small retailers about their ability to sell the items.

Lauren Thomas, a reporter at CNBC, tweeted on Gap revising its 2021 full-year revenue growth to increase by 20% from the fiscal year 2020 against the earlier guidance of a 30% increase. The revised outlook was issued as Covid-19 related factory closures and port congestion led to product delays. The company’s revenue in Q3 2021 also declined marginally to $3.94bn compared to $3.99bn in Q3 2020. Gap expects the supply chain issues to continue impacting its operations in 2022 and has invested in air freight to address the issues related to port congestion, the article highlighted.

Supply chain was also discussed by Cathy Roberson, founder and president of Logistics Trends & Insights, a logistics market research company, who shared an article on the measures taken by some of the major US retailers to address supply chain issues. Congestion at ports and labour shortages have impacted the flow of products between Asia and North America. Retailers such as Walmart, Home Depot and Costco chartered their own cargo ships to import goods and stock up on products ahead of the holiday season. Chartering their cargo ships enables the retailers to have greater control over when the products arrive at their stores and also prioritise the most in-demand products. Some of the retailers are passing on the costs incurred to charter ships onto customers by raising prices, according to the article.

2. Artificial Intelligence (AI) – 1,547 mentions

AI’s role in boosting customer retention and loyalty in retail, AI simulations deployed to predict supply chain disruptions during the holiday shopping season, and the use cases of AI chatbots in improving retail experience were among the popular discussions in the fourth quarter.

Rimah Harb, vice president of commercial and partnerships at the Teralight Group, a telecommunications solutions provider, shared an article on how AI can improve customer retention and loyalty in retail. Customer retention remained low before the pandemic as brands offered similar discounts and price became the main motivator for making purchases rather than the brand. The trends, however, shifted during the pandemic when brand loyalty registered an increase across multiple age groups, according to a survey of 3,800 consumers. The shift was mainly due to targeted promotions launched by retailers by leveraging customer data to boost loyalty. AI can help in processing the customer data quickly and delivering insights on the needs of a customer thereby enabling retailers to offer targeted promotions and maximise conversion.

Another discussion on AI was shared by Marcus Borba, founder of Borba Consulting, a digital transformation-focused consultancy, on how the technology can address supply chain issues during the holiday season. The article detailed that AI-based simulations such as digital twins can be applied to address disruptions in the supply chain by forecasting them early. Digital twins use real-time information such as logistics data, inventory and shipping data, and geopolitical and socioeconomic data to identify issues such as shipping delays in advance. Retailers can use digital twins to predict shipping time and delivery estimates, which can play a key role in driving sales.

Gerson Rolim, CEO of Intellimetri, a developer of cognitive computing technologies, shared an article on the use cases of AI chatbots that can help in improving customer experience. Voice bots or virtual agents can be used to address a large number of queries related to order management and provide customers with real-time data on their orders. Similarly, automated outbound calls to confirm deliveries or orders and providing notifications can help in improving customer experience. Voice bots can also help in reducing the wait time for customer calls by automating data collection and verifying caller’s identity thereby enabling human agents to resolve customer queries faster.

3. Augmented Reality (AR) – 417 mentions

AR and virtual reality (VR) dressing rooms expected to become an industry standard, AR being used to enhance customer experience, and e-commerce company Flipkart’s partnership with camera company Snap to deliver AR shopping experience were some of the popular discussions.

Cathy Hackl, chief metaverse officer at Futures Intelligence Group, a metaverse focused agency, shared an article on how AR, VR and mixed reality are expected to be fully integrated into the fashion industry in 2022. The technologies have already been implemented by some retailers such as Lululemon, ASOS and adidas. Customers can choose an outfit and try it virtually using headsets and 3D imagery before purchasing. The technologies are expected to change the way customers perceive clothes and how manufacturers produce them.

AR was also discussed by Charlie Fink, a writer and consultant, who shared an article on AR technology enabling customers to purchase high-value products without seeing them in person. Furniture retailers, for example, benefitted the most from the technology during the pandemic as it enabled them to address logistical and practical challenges in displaying customised products online. AR can be used by furniture retailers to display various combinations of a particular product in different styles and fabrics. AR can also help small retailers replicate in-store experiences online, boost confidence and translate into conversion. Retailers should begin deploying AR with small use cases and later expand capabilities by adding more features, according to the article.

Rajneesh Kumar, chief of corporate affairs at Flipkart, mentioned the term while sharing an article on the company’s partnership with Snap to integrate the latter’s AR-enabled camera kit into its app to enhance the customer shopping experience. The technology will enable customers to virtually try on products from different categories such as fashion and wearables. AR-based shopping experiences are expected to play a key role in motivating customers to purchase a product, according to Nana Murugesan, managing director of international markets at Snap.

4. Blockchain – 285 mentions

The challenges for blockchain-based payment methods to become a standard for e-commerce, the benefits of blockchain-based payment methods for retailers, and bitcoin payments accepted by Croatia’s largest food retailer Konzum, were among the popular discussions in the last quarter.

Markus Peter, organiser of Connecta Bern, an annual event organised by Switzerland’s national postal service Swiss Post, shared an article on the issues hindering the widespread adoption of blockchain-based payment methods for e-commerce. The lack of consensus on how to guarantee the integrity of blockchain ledgers that control blockchain transactions is the main challenge that is holding back blockchain payments from becoming an industry standard for e-commerce. The challenge is expected to continue in 2022 despite the rapid digitalisation brought by the Covid-19 pandemic that boosted the adoption of blockchain-based technologies.

Blockchain was also discussed by Eugene Nilson, growth and customer success manager at Social Media As A Service, a social media and content creation agency, who shared an article on the benefits of blockchain-based payments for retailers. The article highlighted that blockchain-based payments improve security as cash is more liable to theft and loss. They also provide a faster assessment of business operations including cash flow and profit and loss in addition to providing the opportunity to generate revenue from new channels. Furthermore, blockchain-based payments enable value-added services to be bundled with payments such as credit and marketing support. The inadequate value proposition for merchants, low customer demand, inconsistent infrastructure and ineffective distribution models, however, are hindering the adoption of blockchain-based payments, the article highlighted.

Navid Nassiri, head of marketing at Switchboard Software, a data engineering automation platform for digital-first companies, discussed the term while sharing an article on Konzum accepting bitcoin payments for online purchases. The retailer became the first company in the country to enable customers to purchase items in bitcoin. The payment system was launched in collaboration with fintech company Electrocoin’s PayCek bitcoin payment processing system. Customers can scan a QR code to pay using their bitcoin wallet.

5. Point of Sale (PoS) – 212 mentions

PoS solutions provider SumUp’s acquisition of loyalty and marketing services provider Fivestars, in-store mobile checkouts launched by convenience store chain 7-Eleven, and access to Ubamarket’s Scan, Pay, Go app expanded to more convenience stores in the UK were some of the popular discussions in Q4.

Nmachi Jidenma, senior director of scouts and partnerships at venture capital firm Sequoia Capital, shared an article on SumUp’s acquisition of Fivestars for $317m. The acquisition will enable SumUp to expand its services further in the US and provide additional services to its customers globally. The article highlighted that the acquisition is a positive sign that customers are returning to physical stores after the pandemic, which led many customers to shop online. SumUp had raised $900m last year to expand its services in existing markets and enter new markets.

Another discussion on PoS was shared by Mario Toneguzzi, journalist and content creator, on 7-Eleven launching mobile checkout option for consumers in Canada to scan, pay and go. Consumers can pay using the proprietary 7-Eleven Mobile Checkout app. The app lets consumers scan the barcode on each item and add them to their basket and confirm the purchase at the confirmation station before exiting the store. 7-Eleven became the first company to launch the payment option across the country and is part of its efforts to provide a contactless shopping experience to customers.

Neil Saunders, managing director of GlobalData Retail, a retail research agency and consulting firm, also discussed the term while sharing an article on more than 20,000 convenience stores being provided access to Ubamarket’s Scan, Pay, Go app. The app was earlier accessible to 10,000 retailers who used the EdgePOS, Point Four, M-House, TLM, Power EPOS and HTEC payments solutions. It can now be accessed by more convenience stores following its integration with new electronic POS systems. The app also enables retailers to provide exclusive app-only offers apart from click and collect and home delivery services.