Drones, Bots and Virtual Stores: How Your Pandemic Shopping Boosted New Trends in Retail

2020 fueled high-tech shopping trends, but how much is here to stay?

APTOPIX TEC-Holiday Shopping-Online Rush
AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee

The coronavirus decimated the retail industry in 2020 — but also fueled dramatic advances in new technology. From Walmart’s self-driving delivery trucks to American Eagle's virtual stores, the retail industry has advanced several years in just nine months, experts say.

“The acceleration of the customer toward digital capabilities has been unlike anything I’ve ever seen," Shelley Bransten, Microsoft's vice president of global retail and consumer goods, told NBC News.

But while drones and autonomous vehicles may catch shopper interest, they may not be the technologies that are here to stay once stores open up again. Instead, curbside pickup, stores with a smaller footprint, and personalized shopping fueled by artificial intelligence may all become a regular fixture when it comes to shopping in the post-pandemic era, industry watchers say.

“The pandemic has changed how we interact with stores, and consumers will prefer a physical-digital hybrid model once the world is back to normal,” Kristen Gall, president of of the cashback website Rakuten, told NBC News in an email.

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