When we talk about high-tech shopping vs. “low-tech” shopping, most of us probably think that the browsing and shopping we do online, via computers or mobile devices, is what makes shopping high tech, while traveling to brick-and-mortar stores is decidedly low tech.
But those preconceived notions are going the way of Woolworth, Kresge, Gimbel and other once-mighty U.S. retail legends.
An Associated Press article, “Here come ‘smart stores’ with robots, interactive shelves,” previewing the annual Consumer Electronics Show gadget-fest which kicks off in Las Vegas on Jan. 5, described some of the cutting-edge technologies retailers are piloting in an effort to bring customers into physical stores. Among the innovations highlighted:
- Smart shelves: The Kroger grocery chain is planning to expand its smart shelves capability in even more customer-specific ways. For instance, today a Kroger’s in Ohio has shelves that show digitized prices and product information. The next step is to link that information to individual consumers. For shoppers who prefer gluten-free products, “the price tags could light up in the aisle where all the gluten-free options are. The company says this will all be done with the customer’s permission.”
- Robots: Home improvement retailer Lowe’s is experimenting with robots in a San Jose, Calif., store before rolling them out to more stores in the state this year. “Besides scanning shelves for inventory, the robots can guide customers to specific products in both English and Spanish.”
- Interactive mirrors: High-end clothing retailers are testing so-called “magic mirrors” to see if the interactive capabilities resonate with customers. Dallas-based retailer Neiman Marcus “has installed these outside fitting rooms at 20 stores to offer shoppers a 360-degree view of what an outfit looks like. Shoppers can make side-by-side comparisons without having to try them all on. They can also share video with friends for feedback.”
- Virtual and augmented reality: Home Depot is trialing a home-decorating app that “lets customers upload a picture of the room on their phone and thumb through thousands of paint and stain colors until they arrive at one that’s right.”
Another big push is being made in self-checkout capabilities. While Walmart scrapped its Scan & Go app two years ago after it failed to catch on with customers, other retailers are still at it. Amazon announced Amazon Go, a checkout-less grocery store concept, a few weeks ago. And Panasonic has introduced an “unstaffed bagging system” at a Japanese convenience store where shoppers “place a ‘smart’ basket with their items on a machine at checkout. The system calculates the bill and automatically bags the items.”
Retailers are working feverishly to develop innovative ways – such as these high-tech shopping solutions – to provide exceptional service throughout the customer journey. Their goal is to give shoppers compelling reasons to come into stores, just like Woolworth, Kresge and Gimbel did in the old days.