Online retailers like Amazon have made it more difficult for traditional retailers to stay competitive, but recent technological advances may help them level the playing field a bit.
Several startup companies and established tech vendors showed how they can assist retailers in keeping their shoppers spending money in their physical stores at the recent National Retail Federation’s 2020 Vision conference in New York, The Wall Street Journal reports. Some companies displayed AI (artificial intelligence) powered systems that could forecast inventory shortage. Other companies showed off robots that can move items within in stores. The companies that most likely struck a cord with retailers however were the ones that displayed in-store tech that could draw people to physical stores or enhance their shopping experience after they arrive.
In-store technology solutions for retailers
Carrefour, a French company, is currently going through a digital transformation that includes new back-end systems and customer-facing tech at physical stores. Carrefour has a “Flash Store” at its headquarters where it’s testing customer facial recognition for customer payments, as well as other technologies. The company is seeking partnerships to help move its transformation forward, according to Carrefour partnership manager Thomas Andrews.
“We are ending the ethos of doing it on our own,” he said.
Meanwhile, California-based AWM Smart Shelf sells tech systems for self-service stores that don’t have cashiers, similar to Amazon Go. The AMW Frictionless system includes digital shelving and object recognition cameras so stores can monitor which customers leave with what items. Customers are required to do facial recognition and mobile device scans when the come into the store. Doing so allows the system to charge their digital accounts for the items they took.
Smart Shelf co-founder Kurtis Van Horn said there is a twist with the company’s tech, however. It can personalize shoppers’ experiences based on what they pick up—even if they don’t buy it. So if a shopper picks up a box of cereal, but puts it back on the shelf, the retailer can use the system to offer a discount on the shelf under the item during the shopper’s next visit.
“It is taking the personalization and that customization that you would have by shopping online and applying that to brick and mortar,” Van Horn told The Wall Street Journal.
In-Store Technology for easy pick-up at retail stores
Acrelec, a French digital signage company, created an in-store technology platform that helps retailers manage curbside pickup for customers who made online orders. When a customer says they’re coming to pick up their order through the retailer’s smart phone app, employees can use Acrelec’s system to estimate the customer’s arrival. The system’s object-recognition cameras can see precisely when the customer’s vehicle arrives and where it’s parked. Acrelec’s goal is to make item retrieval more efficient and decrease customers’ wait time—it might also encourage shoppers to go in the store, according to Acrelec product manager, James Harris.
“What we see is, perhaps people would buy bulk goods, have them [placed in their cars], but then they’d go and pick out their own fresh produce and bread in the stores themselves,” he said.
There’s still a place for in-store shopping
Elie Perez, co-founder of Booxi, an online booking platform, noted that physical retail stores are not dying—they still make up a majority of many industries’ sales transactions. Retailers are just now in a position where they have to get creative in how they use their stores, and that includes offering unique experiences.
“When you know what you want, it is easier to buy online,” Perez told The Wall Street Journal. “But for the rest, you still have a lot of products that you need help to buy. There are a lot of industries where it is very important for people to connect.”
What retailers’ shift to in-store tech means for CRE
If retailers are going to step up their in-store technology game, CRE owners must do the same. A lot of the solutions mentioned here, including facial recognition systems, smart shelves, object-recognition cameras and booking apps will only be good as the wireless network on which they are operating.
When a retailer considers moving into a building and plans to use any of this tech to keep their customers in their store, they’re going to want assurances that the in-building network will let those solutions work to their full potential. The CRE owner that can offer those assurances will more than likely secure leases with these forward-thinking retailers.