Using technology to reinvent stores

When online retail hit the market, the goal of retailers was to replicate the in-person experience of their stores on the digital platform. But as technology has progressed, the opposite is now true, and retailers are increasingly seeking to introduce into their brick-and-mortar stores the rich, hassle-free experience that customers enjoy online.

Mike Dowson, commercial director at Trust Systems, says Covid-19 has further disrupted consumer behavior and put additional pressure on brick and mortar stores from e-commerce as shoppers become more comfortable with the online channel. There was therefore a need for change, leading to the creation of new, more immersive roles for stores and to better integrate them into retailers’ overall digital strategies.

The most radical change that technology is bringing about is the cashless store. Amazon developed this one first, but it has become an increasingly competitive field and several solutions have been launched since then, with numerous retailers including Marks & Spencer, Aldi, WH Smith and Tesco testing the concept.

One solution in this area is MishiPay, which provides its Scan, Pay & Go self-checkout technology to retailers such as Flying Tiger and Muji. Shoppers scan a QR code when they enter the store and then use their mobile device to scan the product barcodes before checking out on their device at the end of their visit.

Unlike systems that rely on computer vision and smart shelving, it costs very little to introduce, according to David Grenham, marketing director at MishiPay, who says: “Physical retailing needed to catch up with the frictionless experience. [enjoyed] online, where it is a very autonomous journey, but you do miss the personal part and the opportunity to touch products and take them home.”

The MishiPay solution therefore does not aim to completely replace the store staff and eliminate all forms of interaction, but instead provides a complementary alternative to checkout that encourages engagement with shoppers – both through store staff and via their own device. through a built-in recommendation engine that uses an algorithm and artificial intelligence (AI) to intelligently sell items.

“It can identify pairs of items, so recommend batteries with relevant products and deal with ‘people who bought this, bought this too,’” Grenham says. “It also enables item discovery as well as offers and promotions that help retailers who have a surplus of items they want to move. Muji often uses this [functionality] when launching new products.”

The opportunity for promotional interactions in its checkoutless stores has not been lost at Amazon, which is researching the sale of digital ads through screens and other in-store items, such as smart shopping carts. This will be a much more data-rich proposition than has traditionally been seen with digital signage in stores.

Digital signage reinvented

Trust Systems is also deeply involved in this reinvention of the digital signage proposition. “We had to shake it up, make it relevant and make it work in real time,” said Dowson, who works with Samsung Electronics.

“We have the ability to remove the old content often found on digital screens, such as Easter eggs promoted at Christmas! It was too much about old playlists and it confuses customers,” he says, adding that the retailer may have a batch of products that need to be promoted quickly and sold through price cuts, efficiently directed to specific screens in certain locations in real life. time.

Dowson also highlights how digital signage solutions have the potential to integrate facial recognition and leverage the data collected about a customer’s activity. He cites the traditional scenario in which people like to be recognized personally by the owner when they enter an independent store and are recommended relevant products based on the owner’s knowledge.

But doing this on a large scale in a large retail company will require data and digital technology, he says. “It’s the only way to provide an immersive experience and promote relevant products. Shopkeepers should look at who is in the store [possibly using facial recognition] and promote to this group.”

Steve Powell, business development partner at Kyndryl, says facial recognition and in-store cameras are increasingly leveraging the power of AI and machine learning to spot patterns and make decisions more efficiently than humans. A system using AI and facial recognition is being tested by Asda and will include a camera in the self-checkout terminals that can verify a customer’s age when purchasing alcohol.

“Using kiosks puts the guest in control of their dining experience, with all the information they need to hand”

Glenn Edwards, LeonI Restaurants

Unlike in the manufacturing industry, Powell does not believe that AI in retail will lead to robotics and automation that diminish the human element. This is certainly the thinking at Leon Restaurants, which is introducing kiosks in its premises with the main goal of improving the customer experience.

Glenn Edwards, director of Leon Restaurants, says: “The biggest benefit is the improved customer experience. With ever-changing diets and new regulations around allergens and calories, the use of kiosks puts the guest in control of their dining experience, with all the information they need to hand.”

The company has worked with Vita Mojo and Centegra to create the total infrastructure by aligning customer kiosks with kitchen management system, point of sale, customer relationship management (CRM) platforms, and inventory and labor scheduling.

“Over 80% of the restaurants are now fully kiosk live and we will complete the rollout of the estate in the coming weeks along with our new restaurants across the country going straight online,” said Edwards. “In restaurants that are now fully live with kiosks, more than 85% of transactions are now processed through them.”

An added benefit of the kiosks is the data they generate, which will help develop menus based on customer habits and needs, Edwards says. “We are on a mission to put the data in the hands of restaurant managers so they can make smart decisions to improve the guest experience. All our systems report in BI [business intelligence] dashboards for real-time reporting, enabling localized decision-making in the moment.”

Tablets in bike showrooms

Instead of using newsstands, Ribble Cycles has instead introduced Android tablets to its six showrooms and placed them next to each of its bike models. Matthew Lawson, chief digital officer at Ribble Cycles, said: “The showrooms are designed as an extension of our digital presence and we are using the space for customers to continue their shopping journey as a rich experience.”

The tablets dynamically pull the relevant cycling information from the Ribble website, which is determined by their location in the store. Because the information comes from a central repository, fed into all company touchpoints and channels, any changes only need to be made once and spread across the wallet. “It means everything is consistent and takes a job away from the team in the store,” says Lawson.

The cash registers and the website are also controlled from this single back-end infrastructure, so that there is a single view of the customer. This allows the customer to login to the website and continue the shopping journey, which they may have started in-store, and checkout seamlessly.

This cross-channel journey is further enhanced by “Ribble Live”, which leverages technology from GoInStore that connects customers on the website to an in-store specialist via video connectivity. “Not everyone can come to our showrooms, and people often have just one question they want to ask before making a purchase,” says Lawson. “This takes advantage of the capital investment in the showrooms.”

The power of this live video interaction is that it generates 10 times the conversion rate of a pure online customer and the average order value is 40% higher. “It makes the digital process more humane,” Lawson adds.

The final piece of the in-store technology proposition in the Ribble Cycles stores are the digital screens that will soon allow customers to press “play” on the tablets and activate video images of the bicycle in question on the large screens. This content can also be managed from the CRM system at the head office.

Because all Ribble bikes are built to specific customer requirements and it only sells its products directly to customers, the finished products are collected from a store at a later date or delivered to the customer’s home. This requires management of the fulfillment process, but it’s not about high volumes that would give Ribble a headache.

For other businesses, especially supermarkets where speed of delivery of online orders is an important factor, this can pose serious problems. Colin Coggins, chief commercial officer at Fabric, which partners with US companies including FreshDirect, Instacart and Super Pharm, says that micro-fulfillment centers (MFCs) are the ideal solution for such retailers. These semi-automated warehouses can be integrated into existing stores, which are always located close to the customer.

“People and robots can work together within our micro-fulfillment centers”

Colin Coggins, fabric

“Our MFCs are close to the end consumer, enabling fast delivery,” said Coggins. “They achieve impressive throughput and efficiency through dense product storage and software-driven robotics to accelerate order processing, item retrieval, picking and packing. Humans and robots can work together within our MFCs for a more efficient, profitable and sustainable approach to order fulfillment and delivery.”

They can achieve a 200% increase in the number of items processed each day compared to a traditional fulfillment center and require only about half the space, with a footprint of just 10,000 square feet.

Coggins adds, “Retailers understand that to meet customers’ changing expectations for faster deliveries, they need to move their fulfillment operations much closer to their customers, and to do that profitably, automation is critical. Micro-fulfillment is becoming the standard that brings the combination of customer proximity and automation so that retailers can quickly scale their e-commerce operations.”

Such solutions show how much more sophisticated the digital space has become since the early days of online shopping and how the physical space can play an integral role in the overall shopping journey – but only when the relevant technology is implemented.

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