My shopping trolley is smarter than yours: Five ways to incorporate technology into the retail experience

It's lunchtime. You've got a few minutes to grab a sandwich before your next meeting begins. You nip to the store and hotfoot it back to your desk. It's a shopping experience like any other except… It isn't.

At no point did your sandwich get scanned at a till, let alone a self-checkout. There was no fumbling for your wallet or even your smart phone to pay digitally. Are you a petty sandwich thief? Not quite. You're just a consumer braving the world of autonomous retail.

We are witnessing the rise of cashier-less and 'frictionless' shopping. Accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic and fears around virus transmission via surface contamination and airborne droplets, consumers are seeking out opportunities to shop safely, at a distance, without the need to touch surfaces.

More and more consumer spend has moved online and to contactless modes of instore shopping. In fact, in 2020, the number of contactless payments made in the UK increased by 12% to 9.6 billion payments. The proportion of retail sales online rose to 27.0% in April 2022, substantially higher than the 19.9% recorded in February 2020 before the pandemic.

As consumers return to physical stores to browse stock and purchase products, their confidence in retailers' use of digital technology is growing. It is the grocery sector which has championed smart autonomous retail solutions, but fashion, home improvements and health and beauty are all following suit and investing in technology to meet consumer expectations.

Five technology solutions being implemented across the retail sector:

Smart Shop

Decathlon are experimenting with ‘Smart Shop’ technology. Customers in its Netherlands’ stores can scan the barcode of a product and pay for it using the Decathlon Scan & Go app on their smartphones. The mobile self-checkout solution even automatically disables the RFID security tag to leave customers free to exit the store without the need to queue or wait at the checkout.

Smart Trolleys

For a more cost-effective alternative to fully-automating their in-store experience, retailers can ‘smarten up’ their shopping trolleys. ‘Smart carts’, like those by artificial intelligence firm Caper and start-up Veeve use computer vision-enabled basket cameras to detect what shoppers collect in their trollies, without the need to scan a barcode. Flow can even retrofit existing carts with their mountable devices which use high-precision cameras.

Robot deliveries

Co-op in partnership with Starship Technologies (the delivery robot company launched by the founders of Skype) are using robots to deliver groceries in as little as 20 minutes with reduced carbon emissions.

Customers can access the service via a mobile app. Once they’ve chosen their favourite foods, they can drop a pin where they want their delivery to be sent. Travelling at pedestrian speed, their Starship robot will safely navigate around objects and people on their delivery run whilst customers track the entire journey on their smartphones.

Self-driving vehicles

Rewe Group in partnership with Vodafone have rolled out a self-driving kiosk in Germany – the ‘Snack Mobil’. Equipped with cutting-edge cameras, sensors and 5G/LTE mobile technology from Vodafone, the driverless convenience store cruises around the Carlswerk commercial campus in Cologne. Consumers can track the Snack Mobil’s progress as it travels to predefined stops, flag it down and purchase drinks and snacks via an app on their smartphones – a contactless and sustainable solution.

Just Walk Out

Amazon set a new standard for tech-enabled retail experience with its ‘Just Walk Out’ shopping solution. Customers based in Washington, USA can shop at its full-range supermarket, Whole Foods, and exit the store using ‘Just Walk Out’, Amazon One palm scanning or by inserting a payment card linked to their Amazon account.

Here in the UK, Amazon opened six autonomous Amazon Fresh stores in 2021 and Tesco is exploring its own similar offering with its ‘GetGo’ solution in partnership with Trigo. Cameras and weight-sensors establish what customers have picked up from the shelf and charge them for products directly through the Tesco app when they exit.

Preparing for the future

It's one thing to develop digital retail solutions, but it's quite another to be able to harness and implement them for the benefit of the retailer and consumer. Underpinning autonomous retail is an intricate web of partnerships, information security arrangements and data systems amongst retailers and tech providers.

We have experience of advising both retailers and technology companies on the risks and rewards of implementing new processes and we are happy to share our market insight if you are considering how to deliver digital solutions for consumers.

Keep an eye out for the next instalment of our series on retail technologies where we explore what retail technology partnerships and arrangements entail and offer some top tips to ensure they are successful.

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