The Store of the Future: Three Innovations Coming to a Retailer Near You
What will the store of the future look like? While technology seems to be transforming every other area of our lives, brick-and-mortar stores seem to work pretty much the same way they have for decades. Well, that’s about to change.
Robots, augmented reality, the Internet of Things (IoT) and more are rewriting the rules for retail. Here are three examples of the store of the future, coming to a retailer near you:
- Robots in the grocery store
- Connected associates
- Digital fitting rooms
The Grocery Store of the Future
What’s more frustrating than making your weekly trip to the grocery store, only to find that several items on your list aren’t on the shelves? At the root of the problem is a basic fact: Staying on top of inventory (i.e. “shelf counts”) is a slow, tedious, time-consuming manual effort. Which makes it a perfect task for a robot.
Soon, you’ll see robots gliding down the aisles. They’ll use computer vision to scan the shelves and upload those images to the cloud, where an artificial intelligence will determine the shelf count for every item and alert associates to what needs to be restocked. It would take multiple human beings each day checking every shelf in every aisle for just one update. Robots can do it every couple of hours, multiple times per day. That means more satisfied customers and increased sales – imagine if this data fed into the grocery store’s mobile app providing near real-time inventory status to shoppers!
The same robots can also do temperature checks on cooler cases, which grocery stores must perform many times per day. Here, robots pull data from IoT temperature sensors as they glide by. A large store can go from doing thousands of manual checks daily to just receiving an alert when something’s not right. That’s a huge time and resource savings, allowing store associates to focus on what really matters – customers – instead of tedious, time-consuming tasks.
Digitally Enhanced Associates
Specialty stores (like for apparel or electronics) are going digital too. Many have already rolled out one big innovation: equipping every store associate with a tablet. With inventory information and store applications at their fingertips, associates can:
- Make shopping faster and more convenient with mobile point-of-sale (POS) systems—checking out customers anywhere on the floor
- Provide customers with detailed information on every piece of merchandise in the store
- Order items and have them shipped—instead of the customer just pulling out their phone and ordering from Amazon when something is out of stock (which fuels up to 24% of Amazon’s retail sales)
- Use customer relationship management (CRM) tools to personalize service by pulling up customers’ order histories, preferences and more
Fitting Rooms of the Future
One of the most exciting innovations now coming to clothing stores: digital fitting rooms. The fitting room mirror will be an intelligent touchscreen that detects every item you brought in with you (via RFID technology). It will display product details, other available styles and sizes, related items and more. Tap a thumbnail, and an associate will bring that item to you, without you having to ask for help.
Some fitting rooms will offer variable lighting controls, so you can see what clothes will look like in the evening or under fluorescents at the office. Some will even use augmented reality (AR) to show you how you’ll look in the items you brought in, without you having to try them on.
The Store of the Future Requires a Smarter Network
All these innovations can deliver big benefits to retailers and customers. But they also mean that the in-store network, and the WAN that connects it to the cloud, are now critical resources. What happens if they don’t have the performance and availability they need?
Of course, anything involving computer vision or AR demands high capacity and performance. But stores will also be dealing with a huge increase in the volume of smaller transactions (PoS transactions, temperature checks, inventory checks, alerts to associates and more). That’s tremendously more real-time data flows running across store networks than their used to be. Which leads to lots of applications and data traffic competing for the same finite capacity.
If your store network doesn’t have the intelligence to know what each data flow is actually doing, what current conditions are on the network, and which applications must be prioritized, those digital experiences can break down. And, as retailers know, when customers have a negative experience—if shelves aren’t stocked because the robot can’t upload images, if it takes 30 seconds for a digital mirror to update, if mobile PoS transactions aren’t going through—stores are unlikely to get a second chance. Not to mention that customer’s social media friends will immediately know about the poor experience!
Investing in new digital experiences for your retail locations? Make sure your network has the application awareness to deliver them the way you intend, consistently—and the way your customers deserve. To learn more, visit https://www.infovista.com/sd-wan.