Emerging technologies are enhancing the retail environment, creating ever-more convenient and empowering experiences for customers. But the rise of machines comes at a much more human cost.

Automation


Automation is profoundly changing the way we shop and engage with retailers and data is enabling personalisation. This means retailers know us better; what we buy now and what we might buy next.

The internet of things is seeing previously inanimate objects becoming smart, as they communicate information like their condition, location and status to those or that which needs to know it. Logistics, a lynchpin of retail, are becoming increasingly sophisticated and measured, increasing speed and efficiency of service. And robots…well they are just doing everything we do, but a little better.

This order has been created from a shopping list automatically populated from data on our previous orders, dietary requirements, bookmarked recipes and required replenishment of goods recorded by the smart devices in our home.

Our smart fridge creates a full inventory list as each RFID-implanted item is placed inside. When we are low on items or they are going past their sell-by date they are automatically added to the shopping list. Our smart bins do the same for non-chilled items, recording shampoo bottles, toothbrushes and empty pasta packets as we dispose of them.

This scenario is already taking place, and it’s simpler than you would think. Startup WePlenish has launched its first automated replenishment product Java, a smart coffee pod bin for Nespresso users. Sitting next to your machine, it is devoid of the technological black magic mistakenly deemed necessary for such acts of wizardry. It simply senses how many empty pods it is holding, and when it gets full orders more of your preferred variety through your Amazon account. That’s a pretty neat solution for an everyday problem.

The fallout of this is that “chore shopping” will become increasingly frictionless and automated to create maximum convenience for customers. More than ever retailers need to acknowledge the relationship and place they hold in their customers lives and become increasingly convenient if they wish to remain there.

The luxury of human interaction


Technology that automates and replaces human interaction isn’t just behind the scenes. Much more visible are the tills and assistants replaced by computerised checkouts and AI-powered interfaces that facilitate the most basic interactions we have inside a store.

Less humans on the floor makes total sense in commoditised settings like supermarkets or low-cost clothing stores where it is less of a requirement and less expected as part of the low-cost high-value proposition. Where it does not quite make so much sense is in instances where service is part of the premium.

The use of humans in high-end retailers of luxury goods will further differentiate their offering. These analogue interactions form a key part of the experience of these higher-cost purchases, where the service and environments are as much a part of the purchase as the product itself.

Service is the key word in this new context – where it is present and required, humans will continue to play an important role. Where it isn’t, expect the opposite to be true – differentiation becomes a tech play, humans are seen as friction and a cost that can be reduced for both retailer and customer.

This is an excerpt from the free downloadable report Retail Trends 2020 and Beyond