New Technologies Will Shake Your Shopping Routine up – Online and Offline

The Wall Street Journal recently posted an article with a new forecast from media-buying giant GroupM that estimates: by 2024, e-commerce is going to take up a quarter of global retail. Businesses are going to adapt to new trends – for example, going beyond pure convenience of e-commerce and focusing on brand experiences. As online shopping becomes more common than in-person mall visits, a lot of new technological advancements still stand between retail today and e-commerce of the future.
6 min read
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By Kevin Twitchell
Advisor for Retail and Distribution Practice
New Technologies Will Shake Your Shopping Routine up – Online and Offline

Current grocery shopping includes a lot of manual processes, data insertion and employee labor. So, one can make an educated guess on focusing on automation, saving time for customers and redirecting employee efforts into customer care. The question is – what kinds of technology are going to stay with us for the long run, and what parts of the job are still going to be a person-to-person interaction?

Sure, there are so many new tech-intense trends, from cashierless stores to smart carts (more on that later), yet still much remains to be done to make the process for customers smooth, with the ongoing pandemic making it essential to many retailers.

New Technologies will Shake Your Shopping Routine up – Online and Offline
Learn more about new technologies for your business

Pandemic Blew Online Retail Numbers

While Americans are spending more than $900 billion a year on groceries according to USDA, online shopping is still a relatively new habit. Before “coronacrisis,” only 8% of all customers were buying products online, people stayed to their routines visiting brick-and-mortar supermarkets, especially in small towns all over the world.

But during a pandemic, according to DataArt report, the number of people spending their money online increased by 8 times up to 72%. For example, Kroger has now reached the top-10 e-commerce grocery retailers with $11.28 billion in digital sales this year, standing next to big fish like Amazon, Walmart and Target. To satisfy this insane demand, companies consider introducing new technologies to meet ever-changing regulations and cautiously returning customers.

Skipping Long Lines with Tech

In 2014, Kroger was experiencing high demand with insufferably long lines. As an attempt to speed up the process, management added extra baggers to each cashier, yet this did not help: customers still waited in line for more than 8 minutes in peak hours. That is why at the end of 2018, Kroger launched their stand-alone payment checkout - Scan, Bag, Go, and placed it in 350+ stores all over the country.

Now, people can use an app on their phones and scan barcodes on products as they go through the supermarket. Once they are done bagging products, they can pay via the same app and skip lines - and social interaction - altogether.

High-Tech Grocery Shopping

Amazon Fresh, previously known as a grocery delivery service working primarily with Whole Foods, has just expanded opened a brand-new store in August 2020 in Woodland Hills, California. They invited a limited number of customers for a trial run to see if it is successful with all of its new shopping perks, like Alexa consultations and an automatic Dash cart. What is it exactly?

First advancement, Alexa is available for any questions through an app or Dash cart, so that people can ask questions or follow their shopping list quickly and seamlessly through aisles and check off items as they shop. As products are signed with digital labels, a customer may ask Alexa to help find a specific product at multiple stations.

Second advancement, Dash Cart recognizes what is put inside and allows one to pay without going through the checkout by using both computer vision algorithms and sensor fusion. It works the following way: the user scans the QR code on their phone in order to use the shopping cart, Dash Cart then reads the barcodes of the goods and weighs them. The cart charges money for purchases when the user leaves the store. The only trick is the size of Dash Cart: a basket capacity is rather small, so it will not work for Thanksgiving dinner shopping.

These peculiar approaches are not obligatory: regular delivery, carts and cashiers are still available for those who prefer to shop the old-fashioned way. But you can still expect to see more and more of them as the trial went smoothly and the company is planning to open more spots throughout the country.

Opportunities and Limitations of Technology

Machine Learning allows not only to increase sales of offline retail but also to speed up a lot of routine tasks. It is a great source for making data-driven decisions. This way, we can see a shift in how a customer interacts with the store and what goes into an employee’s responsibilities.

A good example would be Sam’s club that has recently started use autonomous mobile robots guided by artificial intelligence in their Southern California fulfilment center. With Sam's Club's e-commerce sales hitting $363 million at the end of the third quarter of 2020, they needed to find new ways of meeting high demands of the public. In the warehouse, robots pick goods and bring them to workers to further deliver and pack, all perfectly automized. It goes further than just mechanics: robots are constantly learning, prioritizing orders and re-organizing as they go on based on data that they receive.

Robotization and automized warehouses are becoming more and more common. Another example is the first high-tech Customer Fulfilment Center in the USA opened in Cincinnati as a result of collaboration between The Kroger. Co and Ocado. Ocado Technology is famous for its automized warehouses and robotization, so it is bringing the next-generation technology to American market.

As a former supermarket bag boy, I think it still will be important to remember the value of human interactions. Anyone who has ever worked in store will attest - a smart, friendly, and helpful employee will always be a huge competitive advantage. Atomization of manual labor frees up people to be more present to their customers, so it can be a human-centered and technology supported balance for all.

Do you want a product that your competitors don’t dream about? Talk to DataArt experts about your online retail business and the technologies we can empower it with.

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