Retailers have been significantly impacted by the pandemic. In 2020, total retail sales fell by 1.9% compared to 2019. Now that consumers are returning to stores, retailers must look to welcome them in new ways.
Consumers now want a fast, easy, and convenient shopping experience. On average, a person spends nearly two years of their life waiting in line and with the proliferation of delivery, and click & collect services during the pandemic, consumers have realised they could spend that time doing something else of value to them.
Retailers have the opportunity to meet the needs of customers today, but they must re-evaluate the customer experience. Right now the entire journey relies on a conveyer belt or a self-checkout but what’s next? How can retailers step into the new without forgetting the familiar? Technological advancements are revolutionising the in-store experience. Specifically, autonomous stores which are transforming retail.
A consumer first approach
The future of retail will be consumer-centric. As more consumers crave seamless experiences, automated shops become increasingly appealing. Autonomous stores like Continente Labs in Lisbon, integrate AI, sensors, and cameras to discreetly shadow movements that allow consumers to conveniently, and quickly roam in and out of stores.
With automated checkouts, the role of the retail worker is allowed to evolve for the betterment of shoppers and staff. Employees are no longer stuck behind a cashier all day. They will now be on the shop floor acting as ‘store advisors’, providing customers with on demand product advice and assistance.
It is important that we don’t leave anyone behind as we accelerate towards this retail innovation. Hence, we will see stores adopt a hybrid model before going fully checkoutless. This will mean that the stores will function as autonomous stores, however, in the interim, there will be an option for people that want to pay at a cashier. This is especially important when we look at the less digitally savvy, or those that might not have a digital device on their person.
The non-pervasive design of autonomous technology allows for hybrid experiences – cashiers and checkoutless systems can coexist creating accessibility for all.
Benefits to retailers
Autonomous stores provide retailers with rich consumer insights. The surveillance technology provides insights on which products consumers are interacting with and how much time they spend on them. This allows retailers to make more informed decisions about store layouts and shelving, to help maximise sales.
During the pandemic, many retailers were in survival mode, now that the economy is open back up, retailers want to thrive. But the retail landscape is not the same as it was 18 months ago, so they have to adapt to meet the needs of customers today. Autonomous stores have the potential to increase profit margins by nearly twice as much as traditional retail stores, thanks to the reduced labour costs and efficient product stocking process.
Not only does this maximise revenue, it provides opportunities for new players to stand a fighting chance on the high street. Setting up a store on the high street has traditionally required substantial operating costs but checkoutless stores are removing some of the barriers to entry.
For one, autonomous stores can run 24/7 and don’t require staff to be present. Secondly, by removing the cashiers, retailers are affording themselves more floor space for products – and in retail, space is key. Finally, automated stock management applications that checkoutless stores provide, allow for real time insights into stock counts. They are able to inform shop workers of the shelves that need replenishing. Therefore, making the inventory management process more efficient as it is no longer done manually.
Waste is an issue that retailers, especially supermarkets, have been trying to combat for decades. The UK’s retail and manufacturing sector currently wastes around 100,000 tonnes of edible food each year. This highlights the inefficient way many stores operate as a result of poor inventory management practices.
Not only that, but consumers have become particularly attuned with the ethical practices of retailers with which they choose to shop.
Autonomous stores’ smart inventory management and convenience not only discontinues this behaviour but mitigates costs, and also communicates a retailers’ commitment to behaving ethically. This is important when building favourability amongst younger consumers (typically Gen Z) who are becoming increasingly selective about their retail choices.