12 Ways Technology Has Utterly Transformed The Way We Buy Things

Virtual shopping

Photo: Julie Bort/Business Insider

Technology has dramatically altered how we shop.From mobile payment apps like Square to location-based coupons that pop up when we walk into a store to virtual dressing rooms, retail will never be the same after Silicon Valley and Silicon Alley get done with it. 

We once relied solely on human interaction in retail stores—with a little catalogue shopping on the side. Those days are approaching an end as companies like Apple allow you to pay for a purchase and walk out of a store without talking to anyone. Meanwhile, robots are taking the place of the humans who check inventory on the shelves.

RFID tags have made it easier for retailers to take inventory and enhance the customer's shopping experience

RFID, or radio-frequency identification technology, enables retailers to do things like get rid of traditional checkout, track merchandise, and serve customers more efficiently.

Back in July, JCPenney CEO Ron Johnson announced that he will get rid of traditional checkout by the end of 2013 by deploying RFID tags.

The iPad and other tablets have changed the way retailers handle payments

The rise of tablets has been instrumental in revamping the retail experience, with many brick-and-mortar businesses using the tablet as a kind of mobile cash register for ringing up sales.

Square has allowed retailers to completely ditch traditional checkout methods

Its card reader and Register app allow merchants to accept credit- or debit-card payments using an iPhone, iPad, or Android device. The dashboard lets merchants do things like track sales by time of day.

Endless virtual aisles make sure in-store shoppers don't miss out on all the products a company has to offer

UK-based retail giant Tesco offers what's essentially a giant touchscreen catalogue for browsing the company's inventory of over 11,000 products.

Mobile price-comparison apps help make sure you don't get ripped off

AisleBuyer, BuyVia, Amazon Price Check and other shopping apps make it easy for shoppers to compare prices while on the go. For example, if you're in a Best Buy about to buy a new TV, it won't hurt to check to see if there are better prices for that same model elsewhere.

Virtual dressing rooms save shoppers time

Tesco recently launched virtual changing-room mirrors in three of its stores. Shoppers in a hurry can easily try on clothes virtually, visualising what they'd look like without having to waste time standing in line, getting undressed, trying on the clothes, and getting dressed again.

EasyPay lets you buy Apple products in real life using your iPhone

Apple stores can sometimes get so crowded that it's hard to find a clerk to check you out. That's why the EasyPay app lets you buy items like chargers, cases, and software without needing to interact with anyone in the store.

GoPago lets you order and pay ahead

GoPago makes it so you don't have to waste time standing in line. It lets you order ahead, pay, and pick up without having to carry your wallet. It also has broader implications past food--it could easily be used in places like hair salons, pharmacies, and other businesses.

NFC is replacing the wallet

NFC, short for near-field communications, has given birth to mobile payment tools like Google Wallet. With Google Wallet, users input their payment credentials into the app and simply wave their phone over an NFC-enabled terminal to pay for goods. (There's a lot of scepticism in the industry, though, about whether NFC's really needed.)

AndyVision helps store owners keep items in stock

AndyVision is a robot developed by the Intel Science and Technology centre at Carnegie Mellon University that does inventory by scanning shelves to generate a real-time interactive map of the store for customers to see.

The robot, which runs on Kinect technology, also notifies employees if stock is low or if an item has been misplaced. It's currently only available at CMU's campus store.

The Perch display uses projected light and motion sensors to turn surfaces into interactive displays

Perch senses when a customer picks up a product, then displays additional information like available colours, details about the brand, price, and more.

Now, it's time to go back to the past for inspiration ...

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