In retailers’ playbook to win your discerning dollars, technology is often billed as that magic bullet merchants hope can help win you as a customer. But is it?
Yes, artificial intelligence, augmented reality, data analytics, personalization and robotics still rank among 2018’s big sector tech buzzwords, but the retail industry is also coming to its senses about this: some tech bells and whistles don't really deliver beyond their initial wow. Just look at the once-hot 3D printing or 3D TV buzz that has fizzled.
That reckoning was evident in last week’s “Retail’s Big Show,” hosted by trade group National Retail Federation at New York’s Javits Center. The annual powwow brought together 3,500 retailers and 900 tech and other exhibitors – from Microsoft to even Walmart – that sought to peddle their “retail solutions.”
“What I’m not seeing this year is a lot of gimmicks” like virtual fitting rooms, said Stacey Shulman, an industry veteran named last year to Intel retail solutions unit’s newly created chief innovation officer position. “I don’t think there’s a magic bullet in retail….What I’m starting to see is ‘Let’s get back to the basics.’ They may not be fun to talk about, but they solve real problems.”
Intel’s booth reflected that sentiment. Unlike last year, the chip giant this year didn’t feature any VR (virtual reality) demonstration, thanks partly to Shulman’s decision, she said in an interview.
“The use case isn’t at a point where VR can scale yet at retail,” said Shulman, who has attended the show for 15 years. One exception: many retailers have started to use VR to train employees, she said.
Intel, instead, featured such technology as RFID (radio frequency identification) and its overhead readers that are used by retailers including fashion label G-Star RAW to track store inventory in real time. It’s helped G-Star increase its “stock accuracy” level to nearly 100% from about 75% and helped it identify why an item may be consistently bypassed for purchase, said Patriek Den Haan, G-Star RAW's project manager.
Intel also showcased robots that can scan shelf inventory to help free store employees from manual tasks so they can service customers, a common industry theme.
The tone at the show “was more realistic in regards to what traditional retailers need to do to succeed,” said Barclays analyst Matthew McClintock in a recent report. “Unlike last year, traditional retailers increasingly talked about removing pressure points/friction from their business models, and focusing on digital capabilities that improve experience and solve real problems for consumers, which we believe sounds like retail may finally ‘get it.’”
Part of retailers' “getting it” also involves their being more proactive and getting the ball rolling faster than ever when it comes to deploying and testing technology.
Skip Howard, CEO of startup Spacee, which uses computer vision technology to create virtual touch screens and product displays, had one such experience with Walmart. The retail giant approached Spacee after seeing its technology first used by Mercedes to turn a car into a virtual touch screen. Less than three months after Spacee sent Walmart a “proof of concept,” its technology went live in February 2017 at two Walmart test stores. By helping the retailer to virtually display smart home products, Walmart eliminated the need for security and worries about actual inventory theft and damage, Howard said.
“We bypassed their entire” vendor application and on-boarding process, he said.“Walmart was lightening fast.”
Across the board, the NRF show also highlighted one high-stakes area for the industry: any in-store analytics tools that allow brick-and-mortar retailers to track how you shop, their way of leveling the playing field against online retailers that can easily track your browsing and purchasing behavior.
“The sense of urgency around doing analytics and putting sensors in stores is higher than we’ve ever seen,” said Alexei Agratchev, CEO and Co-founder of in-store analytics firm RetailNext, which counts among clients Bloomingdale’s and shoe label Allbirds. His business is seeing the fastest growth, he said.
Hyper local data was another key feature. IBM, which in 2016 bought The Weather Company, for the first time this year will use its weather analytics tool to help retailers tackle supply-chain issues. A major European grocery retailer will be the first to use that to forecast and replenish inventory “within days,” Paul Walsh, director of IBM’s weather strategy, said, declining to name that retailer.
“Retailers have been wanting to manage the impact of weather on their business,” Walsh said. “They want to be able to make sure they are in stock no matter what.”
Interestingly, the growing intersection of technology and retail has also taught the geeky tech industry a valuable lesson. At Cisco’s booth for the first time this year, a makeup toy store was featured to showcase scan-and-go shopping technology. Traditionally, the tech company would only have the unsexy displays of things such as routers, said Derek Dykens, Cisco Retail Practice Advisor.
“In the past, we’ve been working a lot with IT buyers,” Dykens told me. “The past two years, we have seen a lot more business leadership come through the show. This year we really try to bring our story to life in a way that’ll be more meaningful and applicable….Retailers are looking for more end-to-end story. They are not just looking at how much faster the speed of a router is anymore. This year, they want to know 'What this can do for our customers or employees?'”
Original Source: https://www.forbes.com/sites/andriacheng/2018/01/24/the-retail-industry-has-come-to-its-senses-when-it-comes-to-technology/?sh=1add1cc953e2
Spacee provides the best computer vision and AI solutions that help businesses drive new insights, improve efficiency and boost revenue. Spacee’s interactive displays help engage and educate, and its unobtrusive shelf robots collect near real-time inventory data needed to help decrease stockouts and improve supply chain efficiency. The company works with leading brands around the world including Audi, Walmart, Panasonic, Coca-Cola and Mercedes-Benz. Learn more at spacee.com.