Who Said Stores are Dead, Long Live the Connected Store…

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As a repeat attendee at NRF’s Big Show in New York, I have seen a notable shift in theme from “omni-channel retailing” to the “Connected Store”.  With retailers putting more and more connected devices and technologies in the store, and industry suppliers embedding AI in evolving solutions, it’s apparent that retailers have a wealth of opportunity to harness these technologies, and the resulting data, to drive a compelling Customer Experience and improve Colleague Productivity in the store environment.  But this is not so easy, right?

Customer Experience depends hugely on inventory visibility and knowing what stock is merchandised where in the store.  RFID or shelf edge cameras can provide the visuals, with the resulting data being surfaced to the consumer via smartphones, assisting things like guided search and “show me where my shopping list is”.  Apps can then provide more detailed product information, like ingredients, product source, nutritional information or production methods.

A start-up called Walk Out were demonstrating their “intelligent shopping trolley” featuring an interactive screen on the handlebar,  with a camera beneath, and two further cameras at the far corners of the trolley.  As the shopper adds items to the trolley, image recognition automatically adds them to the shopping list.  The shopper simply pays using the screen before leaving the store.  Even this innovation, however, still highlights possible challenges, such as “shrinkage”, plus storing and charging the trollies outside in inclement weather.

Trax (who have a collaboration with IBM) showed how using computer vision to ensure retailers have ‘eyes on the shelves’, provides near real-time insights about on-shelf stock availability.  Whilst this technology offers benefits in many areas, it’s the Colleague Productivity angle which interests me.  Many retailers in the UK have publicly stated the desire to rationalise their store operations over recent years to reduce cost and improve employee efficiency through the use of technology.  Take grocery for example, where the ability for staff to replenish shelf stock levels based on real-time data could be a game-changer.  Retailers have grappled with this for some time, helping colleagues multi-task as the retail store offering adapts.

But how to harness these immense data sets being collected and then do something meaningful with it?  IBM is a leader in Data, Analytics and AI.  IBM’s recent launch of “Store in the Cloud” during NRF provides the answer.  Only with this robust, scalable cloud technology can great innovations like those seen at NRF be brought to life, allowing Retailers to delight customers, and thus retain and win them!

Retail Client Executive, IBM Global Markets

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