The world of retail has always moved fast. But recently the pace of change has accelerated.
Retailers have been propelled forwards by world events, labour shortages, increasing costs, and higher levels of competition. They have also realized that economies of scale mean that many of the technologies they have been dreaming about using for years are finally cost-effective. It is no coincidence that many of the biggest tech-related changes we have seen have been implemented first by huge companies like Amazon, McDonald’s, and Benetton.
The most radical change has been the introduction of robots. People have been talking about their being used for two decades. Now, they are well and truly here.
Stores are using robotic floor cleaners that are also able to respond to and clean up spills and breakages. They are touring the aisles identifying low or out-of-stock items. In some cases, even going to the warehouse to pick up those items so shop floor staff can restock the shelves faster. If you want to learn more read this article, if you want to see some of these retail robots in action, watch this video.
Customer service technology
In an increasingly competitive environment retailers have to look after their customers and give them what they want. According to Mandoe Media s latest current state of retail survey, that means offering them even more personalized service that is fast and easy to access. Something that, in the past, has taken a lot of staff hours to deliver. New technology is helping to reduce those labor costs.
Ironically, it is AI chat technology that is delivering faster answers to customers. Both physical and online retailers are increasingly using them to ensure customers get fast answers to their questions and can quickly do things like pick up or return goods.
Online the chatbot is usually available from the home screen of the website or app customers use to make purchases. In physical stores, touch screen kiosks are providing this service. In both cases, things are set up so that the moment a customer starts to struggle a human can step in to complete the task. Surprisingly, this is rarely necessary, and even more surprisingly people like using them. According to some studies, 64% of people are perfectly happy to use a chatbot to answer their questions. You can read more about this and how the technology is being used by retail, by clicking here.
Sensors are a simple yet incredibly powerful piece of tech that, until recently, have been underutilized by the retail industry. They have dozens of uses on the shop floor and in the warehouse.
Stores are increasingly using sensors to monitor how many customers are in the store. As well as to alert the management team of problems that need to be addressed urgently. For example, the fact that a lot of customers are in the last aisle. Usually, that means that they are about to head to the checkouts. Armed with this information more checkouts can be opened.
Sensors are also ensuring fridges run at the right temperature. Monitoring staff workflows, providing security, and saving power by only turning things like lights on when they are needed.
More ways to pay
New technology is also being deployed to make it easier for people to pay and get out of the store. Most supermarkets have not gone as far as Amazon s physical retail outlets. They have a system in place that enables customers to walk out of the store with their goods without having to pause to pay. But most now have a member of staff that approaches customers who are waiting at the checkout and offer to scan the few items they have, so they can leave the store faster. Also, many people still prefer to pay in cash. For such customers, these stores often install cash counters and Counterfeit Detectors for smooth and secure payment process.
The future is automated
The one tech trend that stands out is the move towards automation. Not so much on the shop floor. Customers still want the personal touch and are not keen on shopping in what many are starting to refer to as “ghost stores”. Although in some areas unmanned stores that allow you to walk in, pick up what you want, and walk out most definitely have their advantages and will be eventually accepted by consumers.
As in the past, most of the automation is likely to take place in the background. With robots being used more to unload lorries, pick the goods, and dispatch them to the store. Or, in the case of online retailers, loaded onto lorries for couriers to pick up and deliver.
Infographic created by Fiserv, a mid market payment solutions company