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Technical Innovations Transforming Retailing Today

People of a certain age are familiar with the Jetsons, a cartoon that gives its viewers a humorous glimpse of the technical wonders awaiting us in the future. While some of the character’s predictions remain a work in progress, others, such as robots and artificial intelligence, are part of our daily lives. Retailing is one area constantly being transformed by innovative technology and automation designed to enhance the customer experience. Yet, human nature being what it is, only some predictions made by experts have materialized according to plan. Consumers engage in online shopping, but 54 percent still prefer seeing, touching, and buying products displayed in physical stores. Technology is helping retailers bridge the gap between customer expectations and those barriers that prevent an enjoyable experience.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) Powers Inventory Management
Machine learning has helped stores digitalize their entire inventory. New product lines are quickly integrated into current stock based on classification and category. AI allows computers to recognize and track products from the warehouse to the checkout counter without scanners. Giving product merchants and store owners better insights into inventory levels makes it easier to anticipate low inventory levels and quickly respond to customer demand.

Smart Shelf Tags Speeds Up Pricing
The reality is shoppers prefer to avoid standing in lines waiting to checkout. The longer the line, the more upset or frustrated they become. Some giant retailers have addressed the issue with technologies such as “Amazon Go” or Walmart with their self-checkout hubs. Other retailers are taking on the challenge of eliminating lines using similar methods. Smart carts automatically scan products as customers add them to the shopping cart. Each item is automatically totaled and allows shoppers to pay for their purchases digitally upon completing the transaction. Another option for shoppers is handheld scanners that transmit prices to a checkout app.

Contactless Shopping Solutions
The need for a speedy checkout process drives customers to try new payment methods and contactless checkout solutions. Shoppers are discovering they can pay for merchandise with one click without assistance from a cashier. The desire to limit contact with groups of people can also be viewed as a residual effect of the pandemic when social distancing became the norm. Consumers’ willingness to shop without touching money, entering pins, or swiping cards is becoming more popular. A recent Visa study conducted in 2022 indicates:

  • Contactless payments increased by 400 percent
  • 78 percent of people who used contactless cards would use them again

Testing Delivery Robots and Drones
Rising delivery costs motivate retailers to test-drive robots and drones for home deliveries. If successful, home delivery as it is done today will be transformed in a way few thought possible. The new process will move retail transformation to the next level when implemented in conjunction with other emerging technologies.

Changing Roles of Employees
One of the primary concerns about AI in the retail space is its unsettling impact on employees concerned they will lose their jobs. In some instances, technology will redefine how people perform their responsibilities or eliminate the function. Each checkout may not need a cashier to manage payments, and stocking inventory may be faster. However, since studies show customers prefer interacting with people, it makes sense to reassign employees to engage shoppers to assist and resolve problems.

Be Open to Change
Often the cost of technology puts it out of reach for smaller retailers. But in time, scaled-down versions of these innovations are introduced to a broader audience, ultimately causing prices to drop and usage to expand. Understanding the technology currently in use is essential to help you focus on possibilities that can reshape your business for the future.

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