Technology has always affected retail – take, for instance, the development of self-service checkouts. But merchants have never seen as abrupt advancements as they did in 2018, and continue to see 2019.
Inspired by this year’s NRF Retail Big Show & Expo, we’re bringing you a selection of innovative solutions that help you improve your customers’ experience and promote sales.
1. Use Your Computer Mouse to Browse the Aisles of a 3D Store
You can leave tedious and seemingly endless online store browsing into the past with the help of a new web store model developed by MasterCard and Next Retail Concept. The solution draws on Google Street View and lets the buyer virtually “walk” along the aisles of the web store the way you would a brick-and-mortar store.
You don’t need to type key words into the store’s search bar to find an item but can, instead, use your mouse cursor to browse virtual 3D aisles. Fred Segal adopted the solution at the end of 2018. You can step into the store right away and see what they have to offer.
The president of the retail company, John Frierson, told Internet Retailer that the environment doesn’t concentrate on price comparison but, instead, offers a pleasant shopping experience and allows the customer to explore new styles and brands.
In addition to an exciting customer experience and standing out from other web stores, the solution takes you one step closer to offering personalized solutions and allows you to collect buyer statistics.
Aside from various smaller virtual 3D stores, virtual reality is being explored by a number of large retail companies, such as Harvey Nichols from the UK and Macy’s and Walmart from the US. Among else, the companies are exploring HMDs, but so far primarily only in the testing phase.
Now that a functioning 3D online store solution is available, it’s probably wise to keep an eye on developments in the field and see how well shoppers adapt to the new experience.
2. A Virtual Mirror that Changes Your Clothes For You
An RFID (radio-frequency identification) reader allows the virtual changing room mirror to detect up to five items of clothing and display these on the screen in various sizes and colors. It’s also possible to use the tech with certain accessories.
Aamsco’s MyVue virtual mirror allows the customer to try on clothes on his or her reflection and ask the service clerk to bring different colors or sizes to the changing room if need be. The customer can send the request to the service clerk using a smartphone.
The mirror can be adjusted to different lighting, used to upload additional data (videos, product descriptions, etc.) and send data directly from the changing room to a smart device – say if the customer wants to mull the decision over and make the purchase later down the line. The mirror also allows the customer to use social media to share photos and data with friends directly from the mirror.
3. A Virtual Mannequin that Provides Product-Related Information
Aamsco has created the world’s first life-size mannequin that allows you to project a 3D hologram face onto the mannequin’s head. The mannequin talks and moves so realistically that it seems like a real person. It can be linked to an AI (e.g. Siri) and the software can share information and answer the customers’ questions. Customers with a smartphone can use the display to see additional information about the clothes and accessories on the mannequin.
The mannequin also has facial recognition software that can identify loyal customers.
4. Transform All Surfaces Into Interactive Ads
The specialists at digital tech company Spacee are convinced that physical touch – when a person touches a product for additional information or to take a closer look – creates a stronger emotional bond. The time a customer dedicates to a product increases and, as a result, the customer becomes willing to pay more.
Drawing from this idea, the company has created technology that can project a 2D or 3D image on the surface of items in the store. Sensors detect when a person touches the surface and react, for example, by displaying a button that reads, “Click here”. Data, a video, etc. will then be projected onto the surface.
Spacee’s tech can be used on small surfaces, e.g. a box of breakfast cereal, but also on cars and furniture. As a result, any suitable item or, why not, a glass wall and surface can become an additional ad space.
5. A Digital Store Assistant that Suggests Other Clothes to Compliment Your Outfit
A possible lifeline for physical stores that are finding themselves in ever-greater trouble is combining physical shopping with its digital counterpart. AI solutions come in many forms – from shopper preferences and wish analysis to using virtual reality in clothing stores.
In 2018, Capgemini conducted a survey, Retail Superstars: How Unleashing AI Across Functions Offers a Multi-Billion Dollar Opportunity that explored how 400 retailers implemented AI solutions. The survey revealed that nearly a third (28%) already use AI (in 2016, this number was 4%), with early adopters including retail giants like H&M and Zara.
Pictolabs’ AI solution is a machine-learning algorithm named Vera. To use this solution, the customer brings a product up to an interactive screen, e.g. by hanging a shirt onto a hanger, and can then use it to select a pair of matching pants. Vera identifies the customer’s choices and makes suggestions based on popular fashion trends on social media and the items sold at the store.
Vera helps the merchant get an overview of the brands and items the buyers are currently interested in and monitor purchase preferences in the chain’s different locations.
6. Lockers Create a New Sales and Shopping Experience
Order online – pick up here! A combined shopping experience that makes you accessible to customers 24/7 and lets you keep pace with competing web stores. It’s smart to combine a brick-and-mortar store, an online store and lockers.
Pickup lockers may be located at a physical store or could be on the customer’s way home, e.g. at a subway station. CompuCom introduced a parcel locker equipped with a digital locking system at the NRF expo. The customer submits and pays for their order and once it has been compiled, a code for the locker door will be sent to the customer’s phone.
It’s also important that the lockers can regulate temperature and/or have a cooling function to keep meat and dairy fresh in any weather.
7. Find Out What Buyers Like About Your Store
VyuPoint collects anonymous data on how people move around in your store, their demographic profile, how long they stay in the store and the customers’ emotional bond with the store. This allows you to gather real-time data on what entices the buyer and what doesn’t.
Do the customers feel annoyed or happy at the store? Is there a day or time when a certain age group flocks to the store and how should this factor in to how the displays are arranged? VyuPoint’s data helps decide how to improve your customers’ mood and fine-tune the product selection.
VyuPoint’s device is small enough to fit in your palm, is equipped with a camera and is easy to attach and move. However, the camera is but one device of many. VyuDisplay uses computer vision technology that can deliver specific advertising to specific people depending on age, gender or emotional state. With more than half of all purchase decisions made at the shelf, VyuDisplay allows brands to find their customer (based on age and gender) and display the messages relevant to them.
The company’s third solution, VyuFinder, uses mobile devices to direct the customer to what they’re looking for.
8. Transform the Customer Into A Fashion Designer
Nike has successfully implemented a hologram solution by French tech company SmartPixel to display their running shoes – the customer places the shoe onto a platform and uses 3D projection to change colors and create shapes.
The tech allows even the smallest stores to display the entire collection. Plus the manufacturer and merchant learn, which color combinations are most fashionable.
Other big names to adopt this solution include Moët Hennessy, Berluti, Christian Dior, etc.
9. It Won’t Be Long Until the Shopping Cart is as Smart as the Self-Service Checkout
Caper Labs has created a smart shopping cart with a built-in scanner, scale and payment terminal. When you add a box of cereal to your cart, a camera will read the barcode and add the item to your bill. Future models of the cart will be able to weigh items, e.g. tomatoes – the camera reads, the scale weighs and the system calculates the price. This will take some time, but Caper Labs’ engineers are hard at work improving the system.
The cart has a touchscreen for finding items in the store and displaying information on discounts and campaigns.
The Verge writes that these carts have already been adopted by two retail chains in New York. The publication notes that although the shopping experience isn’t as comfortable as visiting Amazon Go, the cart technology is significantly easier for shops to adopt – no need to install hundreds of cameras and sensors.
Although Amazon Go and its fully self-service stores have garnered the media’s attention, there are plenty of companies around the globe offering self-checkout systems that make use of robots. To top it off, Sensormatic Solutions creates self-service return solutions, V-Cult uses virtual reality to introduce stores, etc. It’s important to note that this tech race took off just last year. We are at the brink of great retail innovations.
10. Drones and Delivery Robots Will Take Over Deliveries
7 December 2016 was a special day for Amazon – after a 13-minute flight, a drone delivered the first package from Amazon’s web store to a customer in Cambridge, United Kingdom. The company’s founder Jeff Bezos had fulfilled his promise of developing a delivery system that relied on drones.
Granted, Amazon’s drone program that bears the lovely name, Prime Air, is still in its testing phase in 2019. The company has kept the project under the lid in recent years, only stating that it hopes to put drones to active use some day.
The fact is that drones are ideal for delivering lightweight smaller parcels. Unlike delivery trucks, drones don’t get stuck in traffic and can deliver packages in no time.
Amazon has applied for a number of patents in recent years. One of these concerns drone-customer communication. Another is a patent for deterring a drone that arrives at an inopportune time. The aim is to get the drone to react to human behavior and either release the package or abort delivery based on voice commands, and change trajectory to avoid collision, etc. The company is also working on a solution for communicating with a lost drone to help it reach its destination.
Another company keen on applying for patents is Walmart, who is primarily concerned with using drones in supermarkets.
Washington Post wrote at the end of 2016 that Amazon also has a patent for a gigantic blimp that functions as a flying mall warehouse and a pick-up station for drones. On one hand, the blimp could operate at sites with higher demand (e.g. at a concert venue). On the other, it cuts back on operating costs – the drones could save their energy for a smooth landing, instead of wasting it on taking off with a load. A drone with no added load uses much less energy when taking off than a drone carrying a parcel.
Scheme: Amazon’s drone and blimp. Source: Amazon/U.S. Patent and Trademark Office
Alphabet Wing is Stretching Its Wings in Scandinavia
Google’s drone project Alphabet Wing has made tens of thousands of test flights in Australia and the US since 2012. Its collaboration with Starbucks and Chipotle in America is at a standstill, but a leap in development is expected across the globe, in Finland.
Wing demoed its drone at the Slush startup festival in Helsinki in 2018, promising to launch its home delivery service in Helsinki in spring 2019. Although this is a pilot project, the city of Helsinki has approved that the drones can be let loose among the cars, buildings and people.
Flyttrex’s Invaluable Experience in Iceland
Since 2017, Israeli company Flytrex that operates in Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland, is the first company to provide regular daily drone delivery services.
In the first stage of the project, the drones flew an approximately 2.5 km (1.5 mile) route across a bay separating two city districts. The drones delivered the orders (mostly beer and food) to a landing pad that functioned as a pickup site for local bike or car couriers.
Flytrex’s engineers concentrated on the drones’ landing system; more particularly, avoiding landing altogether. The new system, FlytrexInAir allowed the drone to hover while the parcel is lowered down on a rope.
Flytrex is the first company in the world to offer “backyard delivery” – the drone delivers the order to the customer’s home, places it on the ground and leaves.
While drone delivery is now common in Reykjavik, Flytrex’s drones offer a VIP service on golf courses in North Dakota, USA, where they substitute regular drink carts. Golfers can download an app and have the drone deliver drinks and food to their location in minutes of placing the order.
Criminals Don’t Care About Flight Permits
Many companies are actually technologically ready to provide drone services, but the method of transport gets tangled in legislation. Obtaining a flight permit for a drone is difficult and, naturally, safety is an issue.
However, another sensitive topic factors in – privacy. Drone cameras can collect vast amounts of data on customers; for example, they can be used to detect whether you’ve mowed your lawn or have a broken roof. This data can then be used to make an offer for the homeowner.
While legislators are mulling over the situation, criminals and lawbreakers are long using drones. Gatwick airport in the UK had to repeatedly cancel flights during the 2018 holiday season due to drones flying near the airport. Once the drone had been recorded flying near the airport fifty times, the military was sent to assist the police.
United Kingdom also made history in 2016, when Daniel Kelly became the first person jailed for flying a drone. Apparently, Kelly used drones to smuggle cigarettes and drugs into three separate prisons. According to The Guardian, he had painted his drone black and put tape over its lights; however, Kelly didn’t think to erase the flights from the drone’s memory, enabling investigators to easily confirm his wrongdoings.
With Four Wheels Firmly Planted on the Ground
Everything drone related is still in the testing and negotiations phase – we can hardly imagine the problems that mass drone adoption might bring, including how to avoid mid-air drone collisions and crashes in public spaces. This is why determined-looking delivery robots cruising along city streets are a perfectly viable alternative to drones. Estonians Jaanus Friis and Ahti Heinla, who witnessed the birth of Skype firsthand, have set Starship’s delivery robots loose on the streets of several cities. A customer can order an empty robot to pick up a delivery or, obviously, to get items delivered from a store. All the customer needs to do is download the app and place the order. The robots navigate with the help of a 3D system and nine camera-sensors to avoid obstacles. When crossing streets, the robot will wait for the green traffic light with pedestrians.
Starship’s robots were tested for years in Estonian weather, especially on snowy streets during winter, before they were sent to explore the streets in the US, UK, Germany and Switzerland.
A number of hiccups occurred during testing. The delivery robots have narrowly escaped being run over by an emergency vehicle rushing to the site of an accident, it’s been attacked by a drunken man, and got stuck in the snow. These mishaps have helped Starship improve the technology year-by-year and the company’s robots now explore one hundred capitals in twenty countries.