With the holiday season quickly approaching, retailers are preparing for the excess demand and frenzy of panic buying that often leaves shelves awkwardly empty.
Instore traffic is expected to increase by 80.8% compared to 2020. The issue isn’t just whether retail can keep up with consumer demand, but also whether they will be able to support their retail workers as they face extra work and stress that comes with the holiday season. Whether that’s because of overcrowding, empty shelves, or products being moved to the wrong place.
This is where technology, and more specifically, autonomous and hybrid stores come into play to help retailers during high-pressure shopping seasons, completely changing the way the retail industry operates.
Implementing autonomous technology
Depending on the size of the store, autonomous technology can be implemented relatively quickly with a turnaround time of roughly two weeks for a 2,100 square foot store. There is usually a three-stage approach – planning, deployment, and operations. The planning stage involves a tactical analysis of the floor plan, where the technology is mapped out to fit seamlessly, allowing for a frictionless shopping experience. The deployment phase involves integrating the autonomous technology into the shop and automating the store. And finally the operational phase is everything that comes once the store is open to the public, such as, software monitoring and maintenance.
The autonomous shopping experience can be offered to customers in fully autonomous or hybrid stores, depending on the retailer and their willingness to be inclusive. Hybrid stores enable retailers to offer a seamless queue-free shopping experience to customers with their app, while also allowing other shoppers to shop and pay at the cashier as usual.
Autonomous and hybrid stores allow retailers to reduce queues, mitigate overcrowding, and gain valuable insights about their customers. As such, it’s a great way for retailers to modernise the way they operate in order to increase revenue, reduce cost, and offer a better customer experience, especially during the holidays.
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Optimising the holiday shopping experience
To give customers a seamless, convenient, and quick in-store shopping experience, autonomous retail technology uses two key elements: AI and sensor fusion. This combination allows retailers to analyse customer behaviour and extract valuable in-store insights. With the right tools powered with the right data, retailers can study consumers’ shopping behaviour, plan and execute A/B tests in the physical store with immediate visibility for the results, knowing what will yield the most positive shopping experience. Such tests can be in the form of shelf rearrangements or a full store layout redesign.
By optimising the store layout, retailers will be saving consumers time as they are more easily able to grab the items they need and leave. And the elimination of queues will do a lot to attract more customers to physical stores. Parents shopping with kids, for example, won’t be worried about being stuck in the extra long holiday line, with a child that’s throwing a tantrum. So many hours are wasted waiting in line. Autonomous store technology puts the customer first and allows people to treat stores like an extension of their home pantries. They can go in, grab anything they want, and just leave.
The future of retail is autonomous
We are accelerating towards an autonomous retail future, where physical stores will have to evolve or struggle to compete with stores offering frictionless shopping experiences. This year alone, we have seen retailers like Amazon, Tesco and Aldi, integrate autonomous technology in more of their stores. Continente Labs in Lisbon has seen great success with its first autonomous store, where the non-pervasive design of this technology is delivering a fast, easy, and convenient shopping experience to customers.
Retailers see the value of this technology. They no longer need to worry about the security of their brick and mortar stores. Anyone walking into the store is identified and monitored through a sophisticated network of cameras and sensors. Therefore, stores can remain open 24 hours a day, allowing retailers to maximise revenue and reduce costs while significantly improving convenience for the customers.
So as we look towards this year’s holiday season, and those to come in future, it is clear that autonomous technology will be integral to real time stock management, and the delivery of quick, easy, and convenient customer shopping experiences.
Written by Nuno Moutinho, Chief Technology Officer of Sensei