Retail competition has always been fierce. That’s why, more than ever, customer loyalty and convenience are the common denominator for brands to win over shoppers. But what I’m going to talk about is a big shift that’s creating waves in the physical retail space.
Late last year, on a trip to London, I was pleasantly surprised to see a physical Amazon Fresh store in Holborn Street. I was curious what an e-commerce giant would do within the confines of a physical space. I couldn’t resist asking the driver to turn around and drop me off at the convenience store to take a look inside. After careful examination, I learned that the store has Just Walkout technology allowing shoppers to walk in, grab what they want, and walk through without stopping at the checkout terminal.
It was definitely an unusual experience for me. Like many, I have never experienced “retail business” without a checkout. A little more searching on the Internet led me to a reservoir of information about Amazon’s technology and its plans to expand its service across continents. Using advanced artificial intelligence (AI), this kind of cashier-less technology is ushering in a new era for experiential retail shopping and store concepts, which are the perfect blend of the physical and virtual realms.
This experience is quite superior to mobile wallets and QR code scans, especially for someone like me who doesn’t particularly like carrying a wallet. For a more sophisticated and hassle-free experience, this technology may change the way we shop. With this latest addition to the burgeoning field of retail automation, there are a few questions that need to be answered.
Are local retailers equipped to make the cashierless model a reality? Do we have the infrastructure that makes this technology viable and what opportunities do they present?
What’s interesting about this model is its ability to marry the most advanced technologies of the last decade into one glorious system. What’s important is that all aspects work seamlessly, which makes integration key. Another aspect that stands out is the need to tighten backend processes. With cloud infrastructure, big data and machine learning, retailers will be under pressure to ensure stores operate with a robust internal system that monitors inventory, accurately bills customers and records purchasing trends, among others.
The precursors will naturally be the chain stores. The desire to increase turnover and stay one step ahead will certainly be a factor that will push them to evolve. In most cases, they already have adequate infrastructure and can easily install innovations without a cashier.
Additionally, medium-sized retailers of a few hundred square feet can also pilot such technology and gauge customer willingness to go cashless. Even though start-up problems may exist, the potential for optimizing operations and reducing costs seems like a ticket to the promised land.
A further step in this quest to build this model of convenience is the exploration of wearable technology and immersive technologies to accelerate the customer experience. In the case of cashierless store models, we have to ask ourselves how much data we are willing to share as consumers. From a retailer’s perspective, the investment in adoption of these systems and consumer response should add up. If the retail community can iron out these issues, while ensuring consumer rights are protected, we will see more widespread use of fully cashierless stores across the UAE.