Technology is revolutionizing retail shopping. Stores and online retailers are using sophisticated new tools to improve the efficiency and productivity of their operations while delivering a better customer experience to maximize sales and loyalty. The latest of these tools were on display last week at NRF 2019: Retail’s Big Show.
Innovation was a topic on everyone’s mind at the event. Retailers are always looking for new and better ways to run their businesses and connect with customers. But they want to do so while keeping costs under control, especially IT costs. “Everybody wants to innovate, but as inexpensively as possible,” Sucharita Kodali, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research, said during a presentation at NRF 2019.
Retail Innovation at the Point of Sale Reshapes Customer Experiences
Vendors showed off new features for their point-of-sale solutions at the conference. POS is getting smarter, more powerful and more mobile, and retailers are starting to take advantage of these new capabilities.
Mike Poldino, vice president of product management for data capture solutions with Zebra Technologies, demonstrated a POS scanner from the company that can work either as a mobile device or as a fixed, hands-free installation. The unit recognizes when it’s being held by a user and switches to a mode that utilizes the scanner only when a trigger is pulled. The device can scan both one- and two-dimensional bar codes, as well as RFID tags.
Stores are also using advanced POS devices to blend in-store and online shopping, as Zebra’s Leo Greely displayed. These devices enable a sales associate to sell an item to a shopper even if it isn’t in stock at the store. By connecting to the cloud, the device can take the customer through the normal checkout process and have the item shipped to his or her house directly.
Other POS solutions on display at NRF 2019 relied on artificial intelligence to simplify self-checkout. One smart POS device was capable of recognizing different types of produce, so customers don’t have to scroll through page after page of fruits and vegetables to buy an item. Another used AI to determine the approximate age of a customer and thereby save the need for a sales associate to approve the self-checkout of items such as alcohol by shoppers who are clearly beyond the legal drinking age.
In Retail, AI Tools Are Already Creating New Efficiencies
AI may seem like some revolutionary invention whose promise for retail lies in the future, but it’s actually widely used by many retailers. In fact, a survey conducted by NRF and IBM found that 51 percent of retailers are already using AI for customer intelligence, while 48 percent use it for demand forecasting and 38 percent for pricing and promotion.
Experts expect this level of adoption to grow significantly over the next three years, as the use of AI and automation solutions becomes the rule rather than the exception. Retail executives say intelligent automation solutions, which use AI to handle routine manual tasks, show great promise to augment and assist human capabilities. The executives surveyed said intelligent automation could reduce operating costs by 7 percent, on average, and increase annual revenue growth by 10 percent.
Ultimately, retailers need to look for new and innovative ways to implement AI tools. The AI revolution in retail is “going to happen,” Naizi said. “It’s happening now — embrace it.”
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