Customer centricity is the mantra of every organisation wishing to participate in a digital universe, and as ever, retailers are the front-runners. The Amazon Go store, launched in Seattle in January, created a huge buzz about digitally facilitated, customer-centric shopping. Amazon has succeeded in ushering in a new style of shopper experience, but the personalisation envelope can be pushed further — and happily, more cheaply and simply.
The smart operation in Seattle works by having weight sensors on every shelf to detect when an item is removed, and this process is supplemented by deep-vision cameras to spot and track objects removed from shelves. Hundreds of infrared ceiling cameras have been trained over the past year, using machine learning, to distinguish between similar-looking customers and items.
Amazon has deployed an army of cameras, devices and sensors to achieve an in-store retail miracle of killing off the queue, allowing customers to pick their goods “and just walk out”. However, the showcase has cost millions of dollars, including the custom building of this premises. Scaling this model to other retail outlets may not be feasible for Amazon look-alikes, let alone smaller shops.
Happily, many cheaper and more incremental digital innovations are in the pipeline, which will benefit shoppers in the near future and personalise their shopping. While the removal of the checkout queue with its hassle of packing bags marks significant progress in customer-centricity, many retailers identify enemy No. 1 not as the queue, but a lack of easy visibility of their products on the shelves.
Augmenting reality by enabling customers to scan products on a shelf by using a computer vision app on their smartphone offers a number of exciting possibilities. A product search-and-compare service could be superimposed over the images captured on the smartphone, reducing the time and hassle of grocery shopping. It speeds throughput and profits for the retailer, too.
Other possibilities are being re-imagined by computer-vision specialists, who describe the following scenarios: a robot mounted with a camera to patrol store aisles at regular intervals to identify stock gaps (ensuring that produce is topped up and retailer sales opportunities maximised); and camera-fitted drones flown over high shelves in giant warehouses, to check stock and answer customer queries about availability and more.
In the future, connected retailers can deploy their own Amazon Go store, but without the pain of ripping out shelves or cost of implementing fixed digital infrastructure. Instead, camera vision is enabled through smartphones, robots and drones, or where feasible, wearables. The beauty of this approach is that it is cheaper and augments human workers, rather than replacing them, thus retaining staff expertise.
Read more on how retailers are regrouping to embrace the changes of the digital transformation era.