How Retailers are Using Innovative Technology In-store, 8 Examples

Scan & Pay at Macy’s

Scan & Pay at Macy’s

By Tricia McKinnon and Ben Rudolph

Retail is not dying but it is changing, and technology is a big part of the future.  Not just online but in-store as well.  According to a survey by AT Kearney, the technology that customers demand the most is technology that allows them to reduce time at the checkout.  That is followed by technology that decreases the amount of time looking for products in-store.  Then coming in third is technology that allows customers to learn more about a product and how to use it.  

The data shows that consumers are not looking for the bells and whistles but instead solutions that are practical and meet the needs of an increasingly time strapped consumer.  With 90% of sales still taking place in stores in the US a number of retailers from Walmart to Macy’s are experimenting with new technologies that will give customers exactly what they are looking for.  Take a look at these 8 examples of how retailers are embedding new technologies in-store as they give insight into the trends we will see in the future.

1.  In-store mapping

Walmart upgraded its mobile app last year to include a “Store Assistant”.  The Store Assistant makes it easy for customers to find products in its stores. It does this by directing customers using the app to the exact aisle and the shelf area where a desired item is located. To provide this functionality Walmart created store maps that are unique to every store, with more than 4,700 of them created to-date. It is like Google maps but for the inside of a store. With the average Walmart store spanning 178,000 sq. ft. wandering around looking for an item could become a thing of the past.

2. Scan & pay 

Last year Macy’s launched a new app that allows customers to self-checkout called Scan & Pay.  Customers scan merchandise tags using the Macy’s app and also pay for merchandise using the app. Before leaving the store, sales associates take off security tags on items, confirm the payment and provide shopping bags.  

Speaking about the Scan & Pay initiative at an investor conference, Macy’s CEO, Jeff Gennette said “if you want to talk about the single biggest pain point in our stores right now, it’s the checkout process.  It’s finding the register. Is there going to be somebody there? Is there a long line of customers and how long is it going to take me to get out?”.  Macy’s hopes the initiative will provide a better customer experience and so do several other retailers.  Meijer and Sam’s Club are among several other retailers experimenting with self-checkout.

3. Mobile phone assisted shopping

Nike is experimenting with various digital technologies in its Nike Live concept stores.  The first one of these stores opened in 2017 and is called Nike by Melrose.  It is a 4,000 sq. ft. store located in Los Angeles. Nike is using the store as a digital meets physical retail pilot.  One of the key features offered in the store is Nike Scan.  Using Nike’s app a customer can scan a product’s barcode to receive more data on the product including whether or not the product is in stock, in store, at nearby stores or online and what colours are available.  They can also use the app to request to try on a shoe. After making the request using the app, the app shows the customer that the sales associate has received the request and is in the process of retrieving the product. To use this functionality customers must be members of NikePlus, Nike’s loyalty program.

4. Connected fitting rooms

In typical retail stores, shoppers browse a brand’s offerings, look for their size, grab what they like, and retreat to the fitting rooms; not at Reformation, where there is only one of each item on display. To try on items, customers add items to a fitting room on a giant touchscreen on one of the store’s walls, or with the help of a tablet-carrying salesperson. After a customer is satisfied, they simply go to the dressing room assigned on the touchscreen, and then their selection(s) magically wait in a clothing wardrobe attached to the fitting room for them to try on. Not satisfied with a size or colour? Customers put the clothing they are not happy with back in the wardrobe and use the tablet in their change room to find a new piece. Wait 90 seconds, and when the customer checks their wardrobe again…the new selection(s) magically appear for them to try on. The magic happens when the salesperson opens the other side of the wardrobe (once it is ready) to add or remove clothes (no more peeking out of a change room half-dressed looking for a salesperson to help). 

In Fabletics’ newer stores, iPads are placed on the outside and the inside of a customer’s fitting room.  Each item a customer wants to try on is scanned before the customer enters the fitting room and is added to the customer’s online profile. The sales associate can use the iPad on the outside of the fitting room to see all of the items the customer has brought into the fitting room.  If a customer wants a clothing item in a different size they can use the iPad inside of the fitting room to make a request.  

Speaking about the tech inside of the fitting room, Ron Harries, Vice President and Head of Retail at TechStyle Fashion Group (Fabletics’ parent group) said: “you can choose different colors, different sizes, ask for help — all of that without hollering across a wall. It also allows us to track conversion rates in real time in the retail environment. We know if you’re happy or not happy, and we can track conversion to what’s selling and not selling in real time.”  

5.  Customer service robots

In a selected number of stores, Lowe’s introduced LoweBot, a customer service robot. The robot uses natural language processing to answer customer questions. If you ask the LoweBot: where can I find lightbulbs, the LoweBot will travel across the store to show you where lightbulbs are located. It can also provide information on what is in stock in store.  This information can be accessed by customers directly or even by store associates.  

One of the goals of the initiative is to provide store associates with readily available data so that they can better assist customers.  The goal is to augment the work of sales associates (not to replace them) so they are available for higher value tasks.  When asked if the LoweBot could eventually eliminate jobs, Kyle Nel, Executive Director of Lowe's Innovation Labs said “most definitely not — my phone doesn't make me obsolete." 

6.  Digital shelves

Kroger has introduced new technology in its stores called Kroger EDGE.  EDGE stands for Enhanced Display for Grocery Environment.  The new technology enables Kroger to replace traditional shelves with digital shelves.  These shelves display a product’s price digitally enabling Kroger to change prices in real time, if for example, it wants to undercut the competition. Kroger can also use the digital shelves to display advertisements (including video ads) as well as nutritional information. Digital shelves have already been placed at the end of the aisles in 92 Kroger locations.

7.  Magic mirrors

Neiman Marcus partnered with MemoMi to introduce memory mirrors in its stores.  The memory mirror allows customers to record a 360-degree video of themselves trying on clothing.   The technology makes it easier for customers to see their outfit from all angles. Additionally the mirror enables customers to digitally try on a piece of clothing in a different colour.  Not sure if you want to purchase a pair of pants in blue or navy? Instead of trying both of them on put on one pair and then allow the mirror to show you digitally how different colour options look on you. The mirror can also transform into a split screen so that you can compare looks.  Once they are finished customers can email their looks to themselves or easily share them on social media.  

8.  Automated checkout

Amazon opened its first Amazon Go store to the public in 2018.  Amazon Go is a convenience store that uses machine learning and sensors to determine which items customers have taken off shelves.  After customers have finished shopping they can walk out of the store without having to ever stand in a line or go through a checkout. When customers leave the store their Amazon account is automatically charged.


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