For years, e-commerce represented the next-big-thing in retail. Recently, however, retail innovation has come full-circle with a renewed focus on in-store experience.
Technology, driven by Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT), is changing the way customers interact with the stores they visit. Major big box chains are taking the lead, testing smart technologies like facial recognition and automated shelf management.
In this article, we’re highlighting four emerging technologies to keep an eye on. While these examples may eventually be scrapped or revised, nevertheless, they herald change within the world of physical retail. Independent store owners ought to pay attention — and use every tool at their disposal to stay on pace.
- What is it? An IoT-enabled cooler door with a built-in screen. The screen displays targeted ads based on the demographic of the shopper, which it determines using various technologies.
- How does it work? According to an article on RetailDive: “The screens, sensors, cameras and other technologies, including face detection, that make up these systems can sense the likely age of an approaching shopper, which products they’ve picked up and other clues that allow it to display what it computes is an appropriate ad for that shopper.”
- How could this change retail? Cooler Screens are already being implemented in select Walgreens stores as a way to show relevant advertising that will, hopefully, drive a sale. If technology like this goes mainstream, customers could grow to depend on smart advertising, built specifically for them, to spur product decisions.
- What does this mean for you, right now? Try creating your own targeted “advertising” within your store. Look at your basket data and locate adjacencies & common purchase patterns, using 3×3 Databar. Create a recommendation system, like specific shelves for specific occasions or taste profiles, or arrange your store to better highlight products that your customer base will like (according to the data). In short: help ease the decision-making process for your shoppers.
- What is it? Pensa is developing AI-enabled inventory drones which will communicate, in near-real time, when items are out of stock, low on stock or in the wrong location. (AB-InBev invested in the strategic development of the product after seeing a trial.)
- How does it work? According to the company’s website: “Pensa’s autonomous perception system rapidly scans and automatically senses shelf conditions, seeing each individual product from many angles and perspectives. It learns product placement and gets more accurate over time, recognizing across store locations and evolving with ongoing packaging changes.”
- How could this change retail? Inventory needs to be accounted for on an increasingly real-time basis, as online orders and in-store purchases draw more and more from the same locations. These drones can speed up the inventory process, eliminating backorders and lost sales. They could help retailers more successfully optimize what they have in stock.
- What does this mean for you, right now? Your inventory matters — now more than ever. If you are selling online and using your store’s stock, make sure to account for all sales to avoid sold-out products. Use 3×3 Databar to identify low-performing products that should be cut and replaced with more popular categories & brands, thus avoiding dead inventory.
- What is it? An AI-enabled shopping cart that allows customers to scan items and pay for them without waiting in line for a cashier.
- How does it work? Customers scan barcodes as they shop using an interface on the cart. When they’re finished, they can swipe a card and complete payment, all using the cart. Caper is also testing item recognition cameras which will eliminate scanning and make ringing up an item as easy as putting it into the cart.
- How could this change retail? This one could have a huge impact on the in-store experience. Should it go mainstream, stores won’t need to have lines of cashiers. For customers, shopping could be quicker and simpler than ever. Staff on hand would likely reduce to experts like butchers at grocery stores or sommeliers at wine and liquor stores. Customers will expect a smooth, optimal checkout experience wherever they go.
- What does this mean for you, right now? Show your expertise! Be on hand or have someone in store to give recommendations, advice, recipes, pairings and more. Explore ways to make your checkout experience smoother, like offering iPads to allow people to sign up for your loyalty program before getting in line.
- What is it? An AI-powered checkout system that uses cameras and a connected mobile app to let customers shop without carts, baskets or cashiers. The technology, similar to what Amazon uses in its Amazon Go stores, is being implemented in a store in San Francisco.
- How does it work? Here’s how it’s described in one Engadget article: “Once you’ve arrived and checked in using an app, Standard Market [the San Francisco pilot store] tracks the items you pick up using a camera system, and it can tell when you return products (even in the wrong spot) or place them in a bag or your pockets. Once you leave, the company will process your payment, and send your receipt via email.”
- How could this change retail? Even more so than Caper’s cashier-less carts, this technology makes shopping in-store feel like stepping into an unlimited pantry. There is no scanning and no transferring of items into bags. Inventory is updated instantly. Stores will essentially run themselves, and customers will start to expect this seamless experience. Without having a running tally of costs, there is also a possibility that people will buy more per visit.
- What does this mean for you, right now? Let’s focus on the “unlimited pantry” idea. These stores make people feel like they are shopping in their own home. Try that in your stores: make the experience feel like home, but better. Incorporate an element of comfort, like a nice sitting area where people can taste products while feeling more in their element. Design more creative and engaging in-store experiences, rather than simple tastings. Use 3×3 Databar to choose the best time to host these events, based on time-of-day transaction data. And do your best to know your customers, personally!
Technology is working its way into the physical shopping experience – in ways beyond these four recent examples. While it usually isn’t worth an outsized investment in an emerging technology, it’s important to listen to these changes, understand the root of the problems they are solving, and doing whatever you can in the moment to address the same issues. Joining the 3×3 Network provides access to tools and technologies that are tailor made for independent retailers.