Over the last two years, many commerce industry experts viewed brick-and-mortar retail as an afterthought. With the Covid-19 pandemic forcing retailers to close their doors or drastically curtail operations, it looked like ecommerce would finally land a death blow on the sector.
However, that never came to pass.
Instead, the retail sector has come roaring out of the pandemic. As millions of consumers emerged from forced isolation, it seems they wanted nothing more than to shop, in person, till they dropped. To keep all of their newly-returned customers happy and loyal, however, retailers must place a new emphasis on improving their customer experience (CX).
The good news is that there’s never been a better time for retailers to upgrade their CX. That’s because of some recent innovations in cashierless shopping technology that are revolutionizing in-person retail. Here’s an overview of cashierless shopping technology and how retailers can use it to improve their CX.
Autonomous Shopping Technology
One of the most well-known types of cashierless retail technology is fully-automated shopping systems. It’s a concept that Amazon’s been toying with for years now, with its “just walk out” approach. Today, however, retailers of all sizes can begin to embrace the technology through systems offered by recent startups like Sensei.
Their solution creates a frictionless shopping experience that allows consumers to enter a store, take what they want, and leave. There’s no item scanning, no lines, and no waiting. It’s all possible due to a network of cameras, sensors, and AI that tracks them in the store to see what items they’re taking. All the consumer has to do is download an app onto their smartphone to get started.
The app functions as a payment method and a means of access to the automated store. Upon arrival at a Sensi-enabled location, the app generates a QR code to let them in. From there, everything else is automatic. It’s the kind of customer experience that retailers have imagined for years—now available via drop-in technology that any store can use.
Smart Shopping Carts
Retailers don’t have to take the fully-automated route to improve their CX. A less disruptive type of technology they can turn to instead is the “smart cart.” And best of all, they don’t need to replace their existing fleet of carts to do it.
Shopic, for example, now offers subscription hardware that turns existing shopping carts into AI-powered shopping machines. Through a portable snap-on unit, Shopic’s technology adds sophisticated cameras, AI image recognition software, and a user-friendly touch-screen interface to a standard cart. The system allows shoppers to simply place grocery items in their cart as they browse, while the unit keeps track of them.
The built-in touch screen gives shoppers a running total of their purchases. And it also allows the retailer to display promotions and coupons which are relevant to the shopper’s location in the store. At the same time, the system minimizes waiting for shoppers, who can pay right from the screen’s UI. It’s a dead-simple way that retailers can transform their CX into one their customers will love.
Perhaps the fastest and simplest way for retailers to upgrade their CX is through the use of a self-checkout app. Companies like Scandit offer retailers the technology they need to build a branded self-checkout app their customers can use in-store. It instantly enables a contactless shopping experience using the customers’ smartphones.
The underlying tech turns a smartphone camera into an enterprise-grade barcode scanner and the phone itself into an easy-to-use self-checkout interface. And retailers with existing apps don’t have to scrap their existing systems to use the new technology. Scandit’s API makes integrating the new functionality into existing apps simple.
Best of all, the system’s already in wide real-world use, so retailers don’t have to take any risks on an unproven system. It’s currently used by over 100 major retailers, powering self-checkout in over 10,000 stores worldwide. That means it’s the kind of CX upgrade that retailers should embrace as soon as possible—considering there’s a good chance their competition already has.
Now’s the Time for Retailers to Act
Any of the cashierless retail technologies detailed above would make a valuable addition to a retailer’s CX repertoire. The thing is; however, retailers must act fast if they want to ride these technologies to renewed growth and improved customer retention. And there are two important reasons for that.
The first is that shoppers’ renewed appetite for the in-person retail experience might not last. After they’ve had their fill, they may yet return to the ultra-convenient world of ecommerce shopping. By making the retail experience as frictionless as possible, brick-and-mortar shops can use immediacy as a weapon against their ecommerce competitors—something that shipping times mean they’d have no answer for.
The second reason is that the cashierless retail experience is the future. The heavy investments over the last few years by Amazon and others guarantee that. So, it’s a move that all retailers will have to make sooner or later anyway. It would be smart to do it before the Seattle-based ecommerce behemoth beats them to it and corners the in-person retail market, too.
So, the takeaway is clear. It’s that retailers have a rare opportunity to regain some of their lost market share. And upgrading their CX with cashierless technology is an excellent way to exploit that opportunity. The clock, however—as always—is already ticking.