“Enrich your shopping experience”. Often retailers, online and offline, try to entice you to shop from them with catchphrases like this or some variation of it. But what does a richer shopping experience entail? With many e-commerce players offering 3D modelling to virtually check what suits and fits you, the brick-and-mortar stores that cashed in on the sensory experience of shopping lost their USP. But, things are changing for them. In fact, most retailers are making a comeback with more innovative experiences. Walmart, earlier this year, launched a new concept to adapt to its consumer’s digital lifestyles. In two of its stores, the company changed layouts to merge online and offline experiences. The store provides you with a digital wand or “Scan and Go” device that allows you to scan products that you want. As you scan the codes, the store updates your cart. Once you make the payment at the counter—which, again, is unmanned—you can pick up your order. But that is not all, you can also select online items, which can be picked up via a drive through two days later. Similarly, you can order stuff on tabs and pick it up once you are checking out.
The relatable feature is that one does not need to search for help, a click of a button and the staff will be able to find you using the GPS device.
Walmart is not the only one nurturing innovation; Sears is doing it and, recently, Amazon also announced a new shopping concept. Called Amazon Go, the new store is expected to do away with check-out lines, allowing customers to enter the store using a mobile app. A shopper will scan her smartphone to enter the store and using its walk-out technology, the company will detect what stuff you picked off the shelf. Once shopping is done, Amazon would deduct the amount from your account.
But, how is it helping Walmart or Amazon? Most of these technologies focus on providing a seamless experience for the customer and ensuring that the companies learn from your buying habits. What if they could know what your preferences are, even if you are not buying the actual stuff? That would get them into Google’s domain. Google, at present, knows what you search for. But the service is not as nuanced. If this cane be replicated at stores, companies can trump Google at its game, and even Google would want a piece of the pie.
A new technology from Zebra Technologies may help companies do that. SmartLens helps the company keep track of inventory. Basically, an eye in the sky, SmartLens sees everything that is happening within the store and keeps track of what’s going where. Products often move from one section to another, and it becomes difficult to find them. SmartLens can track whether trousers of a particular size have ended up in the shirts section and relay that data back to the store so that somebody looking for those trousers need not go back disappointed. The real benefit of the technology, though, lies in identifying you. This can help companies can create specific customer profiles, getting enterprises closer to knowing what you want.
That would certainly invite the ire of those fearing Orwellian surveillance, in this case information gathering by Big Retail. But then how else do you expect the companies to survive? That is the price you pay for personalisation.