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Mobile is the starting point for every technology conversation

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Jen Johnston

The use of technology to improve the shopping experience is on the rise, and the conversation about technology at retail must begin with mobile.

Ten years ago, shoppers seeking product information and inspiration would search online from their desktop, browse a paper catalog or traverse the aisles. However, in just seven short years (2011 to 2018) smartphone ownership went from 35% of Americans to 77%, according to Pew Research Center statistics. This has opened up a substantial opportunity for smartphone apps to aid the consumer at shelf.

Apps can be developed for retailers, such as the Target Cartwheel app, or a collection of brands, including augmented reality apps from such companies as Living Wine Labels and Sheffield Pharmaceuticals that bring product labels to life.

According to “Special Report: In-Store Mobility” from BRP, 63% of consumers use their phones for product research, pricing and availability while they are in a store. However, only 49% of retailers indicate that customers’ mobile experience is one of their top customer engagement priorities. This is an area ripe for retailer exploration and deployment.

With so many customers using smartphones in-store, is their still a place for kiosks? Yes, but kiosk technology is evolving. What was once used for looking up product information is now used for addressing personal health testing, prescription pickup, interactive fitting rooms and more.

For example, QuickRx from Bell and Howell is a multi-user automated prescription storage and retrieval system currently in the testing stage that alerts patients through the pharmacy’s app, text message or email that their prescription is ready. The scannable code is presented at the kiosk, and the prescription is dispensed.

Integrating store loyalty card data with benefits based on a healthy lifestyle is another interesting area of technology integration. Through Walgreens’ Balance Rewards program, one can earn points not only by shopping with the retailer, but also through such healthy choices as monitoring blood glucose and blood pressure levels, weighing in, or tracking sleep and exercise through a wearable device.

Capturing consumer data in-store not only informs retailers but also enables personalization of the consumer experience. As seen at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in January, the Dense Crowd Spatial-Temporal Structuring Solution from Horizon Robotics accurately calculates age and gender, to better guide relevant consumer purchases.

CyberLink’s FaceMe Facial Recognition Engine not only can track age, gender and store traffic, but also determines a shopper’s emotional state based on their facial expressions. This can help retailers determine appropriate messages for shelf signage and kiosks to personalize the in-store shopping experience.

An article about retail technology is not complete without a mention of Amazon Go. These unique stores have no checkout lines. Hundreds of small cameras monitor shoppers so that when a customer takes an item from the shelf, the product is immediately placed into their Amazon shopping cart. When the shopper exits, their account is charged. And while the retail industry at large may not have caught up, some chains have implemented a “Go” service of their own.

Two years ago, Sam’s Club launched its Scan & Go app, allowing shoppers to scan items as they place them in their cart and pay from their phone, thus bypassing the checkout line. Once the app knows the shopper’s frequently purchased items, it adopts a “buy online and pick up in-store” (BOPIS) format, allowing shoppers to quickly request that their favorite items be ready when they arrive.

The popularity of BOPIS is on the rise, with usage up over 46% in the most recent holiday season. However, customer satisfaction varies by retailer, according to the “BOPIS State of the Industry” report by Bell and Howell and Order Dynamics. While some retailers rank highly for the entire BOPIS process, others excel in the online ordering portion only, so there remains room for improvement on the pickup side. The report goes on to say that stores using automation for BOPIS fulfillment rank higher than those fulfilling through traditional means.

Some consumers don’t enjoy shopping in-store, BOPIS, or waiting for online delivery. Here is where autonomous driving may soon fill a need. At CES, Horizon Robotics saw possibilities for mobile stores operated autonomously.

Toyota, for example, has already partnered with Amazon and several other companies to create self-driving package and food delivery vehicles. Beyond delivery, however, autonomous vehicles may become showrooms or possibly stores themselves, allowing shoppers to purchase directly from their phones. Imagine a roving vending machine on a much larger scale.

Integrated with a concept such as NanoStore from AIFI, these stores on wheels could become the ultimate “grab and go” option.

Even independent stores can cost-effectively use technology. Pointy is a company helping small businesses thrive by placing a device on the cash register that creates a digital inventory when items are rung up, which is then posted online to help increase the stores’ search rankings for certain products.

Brick-and-mortar stores need to innovate. The latest in retail technology is only useful when retailers take the time to consider and then implement the ideas that will take their business to the next level.

Jen Johnston, CHHC, is an industry researcher and writer with Hamacher Resource Group Inc. HRG focuses on improving results across the retail supply chain by addressing such dynamic needs as assortment planning and placement, retail execution strategy, fixture coordination, item database management, brand marketing, and analytics.


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