Retailers are in an ongoing battle to keep customers interested and eager to buy. Many invest in technology to help them meet those goals. Here are six fascinating examples of high-tech helpers for the retail sector:
1. Smart Shopping Carts
You probably think of shopping carts as welcoming and functional, but not high-tech. That may change soon, especially as more retailers purchase intelligent shopping carts to make the purchasing experience more efficient.
One option on the market keeps track of what you buy and automatically charges your account once you leave. It also assists grocery store workers, including those that pick items for customers’ online deliveries. A touch-sensitive screen on the front of the cart shows where to find products, alerts people about deals, and gives them recipe suggestions.
There’s another cart with a built-in barcode scanner and credit card machine. It aims to eliminate going through a checkout line. That model also has helpful and informative options, such as a screen.
It may be a while before these carts hit the mainstream. However, retailers in many areas are already purchasing them and introducing them to the public. As adoption rates rise, so does your chance of getting to use one on a future shopping excursion.
2. Virtual Fitting Rooms and Try-On Experiences
Most of us have been in situations where an outfit caught our eye, but we didn’t want to go through the hassle of trying it on in the store. Many people in that scenario decide to either buy it and hope it fits at home or bypass the garment and resist the urge to purchase it.
The coronavirus pandemic has also caused many retailers to close their fitting rooms temporarily. Many are compensating by using virtual technology to help people experiment with attire and makeup from home. Options range from letting shoppers move virtual versions of clothes onto pictures of themselves or enabling them to look into a webcam to try a lipstick shade.
These solutions could increase the likelihood of people making purchases. Since consumers get an idea of what the products look like on them before touching the garments and putting them on their bodies, there’s a better chance of them feeling satisfied with what they buy and not returning the merchandise.
Virtual fitting rooms and similar opportunities to try things remotely are not without risks, though. Might some solutions collect data about consumers and use it later to target them with enticing product advertisements? Privacy experts warn that’s possible. You can stay safer when using them by carefully reading any provided documentation about how retailers use your data and for what reasons.
3. Recall Apps
Many retailers and manufacturers rely on legal assistance to help them reduce product liability. Professional help is also available to companies that want to respond proactively after getting news about recalls. What are the options for consumers who wish to stay on top of such developments, too? Many retail brands post recall notices at prominent points, such as the customer service desk, checkouts, and entrances.
However, an app could do a much better job of keeping people informed. After all, many individuals don’t take the time to look for recall alerts unless they already feel concerned. Recall apps are not yet a massive retail trend, but this development is worth tracking over the coming months and years.
One app called Whystle combs through several databases to give you updated recall warnings. It also lets you make a personalized profile for more relevant information. If you’re pregnant or have kids or pets in the household, it can give you data that’s more likely to match your concerns. You can also tweak your profile to include an allergen. That’s important since many consumable products get pulled from the market for failing to mention certain ingredients.
There are also more specific apps, such as those that only list foods. Companies are also investing in technologies — such as smart sensors — that make it easier to identify affected batches of recalled goods. Those innovations support recall technologies and could make app data more current.
4. Smart Shelves
The frustration of trying to buy an in-demand item at a store and finding an empty shelf can severely disrupt the shopping experience. Some people try to find employees and ask them to check and see if there are items in the back that sales floor team members haven’t made available yet. Others give up and decide they will find other retailers to meet their needs or return to the store later.
Any incidents of consumers finding empty shelves add friction to the purchase process and could increase customer dissatisfaction. That’s why many brands installed smart shelves. Most models serve multiple purposes. They might alert workers when stock runs low and have digital fronts that show consumers information about pricing, ingredients, fabric blends and other details about the products.
Kroger built a proprietary smart shelf with Microsoft. Representatives from the grocery brand hope the tech will make the company more competitive and potentially give it a product to sell to other retailers to boost profits.
Amazon even has a slender smart shelf that gives alerts when the contents get too low. It’s for office supplies rather than customer-facing retail. Some stores could use them in administrative areas to avoid running out of essential items like paper, pens and packaging tape. People benefitting from those shelves can set them to reorder supplies automatically or trigger alerts about placing manual orders.
Robots are arguably more prevalent in manufacturing than retail, but the tide is starting to shift. Retailers acknowledge that robots could help employees with repetitive tasks and even act as another information source for people who need help.
A robot named Marty rolls around some grocery store chains to alert employees about spills. It also stays around them until the cleaning happens. Then, people are less likely to slip or step in a substance. Children — in particular — love the bot because of its friendly expression.
Home improvement retailer Lowe’s also debuted the LoweBot several years ago. It moved around the store and had specialized hardware to detect people approaching the machine. Shoppers could ask verbal questions to get help finding things or type queries by using a touch screen. After learning which items customers needed help finding, the LoweBot led them to the correct areas of the store.
You can expect to see more robots in stores over time. Many directly support employees by collecting data about things they may not otherwise notice.
6. Cashier-Free Stores
A decade ago, the idea of walking into a store to buy something and doing so without encountering a staff member seemed like something straight out of a science-fiction movie. The future is here.
Amazon Go convenience stores were some of the first retail outlets that operated with no or few workers. More may emerge soon, especially since Amazon recently began licensing a modified version of its technology to other brands.
The Ahold Delhaize USA grocery store chain also developed a similar arrangement to let its employees purchase foods at all hours. Representatives came up with that approach after an on-site cafeteria closed for renovations. The store launched in only six weeks, showing the potential to speedily open such stores in densely populated areas around the globe.
Some retailers may find the costs of opening stores without workers too steep. These locations typically have massive assortments of sensors, cameras, scales and other tech innovations to accurately perceive what people purchase and discourage shoplifting. The progress associated with this trend nevertheless gives an exciting look at what’s possible.
Retail Tech Is Taking Over
Maybe you’ve tried some of these technologies. If that hasn’t happened yet, it likely will soon. Brands are eager to keep people shopping and accommodating their needs. Retail tech could make shopping more enjoyable and convenient, giving outcomes that benefit retailers and consumers alike.