Retail Tech offering renewed potential and optimism for industry

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By Published On: October 20, 20220 Comments

Advancements in technology in all areas has been one constant source of excitement and optimism in recent years, as one-time pipe dreams like that of the Metaverse and autonomous vehicles become a reality. The world of retail is no exception, with tech developments emerging to offer new solutions to old problems.

Retail tech solutions are fast emerging to assist retailers and consumers alike, enhancing not only shopping experiences for consumers but easing the cost of doing business for retailers wary of pressures in the modern economy. 

For David Chen, co-founder of industry leader in 3D vision technologies Orbecc, investment in retail tech strategies should be considered more than just appealing for retailers in the current economic climate.

“During economic uncertainty, strategic investments that improve efficiency and profit margins are vital for retailers,” Chen tells Power Retail.

Retail tech solutions such as the 3D technology pioneered by Orbecc, in particular, offer tantalising potentials to retailers considering adoption.

“3D technology is changing the way we interact with retail. From inventory robots to customer research, sales displays, even virtual fitting rooms and store security, 3D imaging is creating a future that’s more efficient and profitable for retailers,” says Chen, “Today, 3D cameras are about the size of an AA battery, yet powerful enough to create a depth of an entire store’s interior in seconds. This advancement is hugely valuable for data analytics, trend forecasting, store operations and many other retail applications.”

“A few examples of applications in the retail industry include shelf-mounted 3D cameras transforming in-store research through more accurate traffic counts and analysis of foot traffic patterns. These cameras allow retailers to research customer behaviour in the aisle, at the shelf and at displays or counters. Tracking inventory also benefits from 3D technology. For example, global companies are developing robots that move through the store autonomously, taking counts and assisting with shelf replenishment.”

The role such 3D technology can play in enhancing retailer understandings of consumer behaviours, too, is one important example of the kinds of renewed potential that recent advancements in retail tech can offer to retailers, Chen suggests.

“Investing in 3D technology can help retailers reduce the rate of product returns through features like body scanning. With this, consumers can accurately gather their precise measurements so they can order items online with full confidence they will fit.”

“In the checkout process, 3D item recognition is significantly faster and more accurate than barcode scanning because it can recognise shapes. Studies show that 3D scanning is up to 10 times faster than barcode scanning, with items rung up in just one second,” Chen continues, “Payments through facial recognition are also made faster and more secure, enhance loyalty programs and help to comply with local ordinances and regulations.”

Retailers can also benefit from such examples of retail tech in the enhancement of their abilities to connect with their customers, meeting consumers where they are and better able to provide these consumers with the kinds of experiences they most want.

“3D technology is creating exciting new ways to convey information and increase customer interest. Our customer Perch is a great example of an interactive retail display that uses embedded Internet of Things (IoT) technology to unite digital content with physical products,” says Chen, “With this 3D sensing technology, Perch is able to detect when a shopper touches, picks up or puts down a product and use that information to determine when they consider a purchase.”

“This highly personalised product messaging drives five to 10 times more customer engagement while lifting product sales by 30 to 80 percent – delivering an average return on investment from 300 percent up to 2,200 percent.”

Of course, in the case of retail tech attached to terms and processes like ‘facial recognition’, concerns about privacy instinctively emerge for retailers and consumers. After all, it was not even six months ago that big-name retailers Kmart and Bunnings were forced to hit pause on their use of facial recognition technologies amid scrutiny from Australia’s privacy regulator. In the case of 3D technology, at least, Orbecc’s Chen suggests that concerned retailers and consumers can take assurance from the assistance that this example of retail tech offers too.

“In many cases around the world, 3D facial recognition is used daily at millions of stores because customers prefer 3D facial recognition applications for its speed and convenience. In terms of researching customer behavior, 3D technologies don’t rely on traditional 2D images or videos,” says Chen, “3D cameras only record sparse 3D point clouds, or points within a 3D image, that can be recognised only by computers. This technology analyzes the “hot area” or “hot product” in each individual store to understand the community habit instead of tracking each individual person, making 3D cameras an even more effective way to protect privacy.”

3D technology is far from the only retail tech option providing unique potentials to retailers, however, as options of introducing ‘digital human’ or AI-powered chatbots to the retail experience also offer retailers much needed and welcomed opportunities to save on both time and cost.

This is one potential that was recognised by BNPL provider Laybuy late last year, as they introduced digital human, AI-powered chatbot ‘Hugo’ to their team ahead of the busy holiday period.

“Adding Hugo into the customer support team means that we are in a much better position to manage the workflow of our customer support team, especially during peak periods,” Laybuy co-founder and CEO Gary Rohloff tells Power Retail, “But more importantly, by removing the need for our customer support team to manage basic enquiries, we free them up and give them the space that they need to manage some of the more complex and interesting enquiries we get from our customers. 

“This is ultimately what our team wants to come to work to do, and by giving them the time and space to do this means we can help improve their job satisfaction.”

‘Hugo’ came to the BNPL provider’s team via a partnership with Ambit, a leading provider of AI-powered retail tech solutions.

“Ambit does smart chatbots, or what we like to call Digital Employees. Our product is a Low-code No-code conversational AI automation platform, which provides great customer service at scale,” says Ambit CEO Tim Warren, “Digital Humans, or Digital Employees, are intelligent chatbots who are able to instantly answer a wide range of common questions on a company website, providing customers with real time responses to everyday enquiries, such as help resetting passwords, questions around product delivery status, refunds and returns, as well as payment enquiries.”

“Our partnership with Ambit, which saw us “employ” Hugo, has allowed us to cost-effectively deliver a first-class customer service experience to our rapidly growing customer base,” Laybuy’s Rohloff adds, “By automating basic customer enquiries, we have been able to refocus our customer support team to focus on more complex enquiries. As a result, we have been able to deliver both an improved service and more timely responses without incurring the costs of upscaling the size of our customer support team, which ultimately supports our bottom line.”

More than simply a retail tech process of throwing a robot at a sticky problem, however, the ‘digital human’ solution offered by Ambit and taken up by Laybuy sees even greater involvement.

“We like using the distinction between ‘simple chatbots’, using basic scripts – which can be limited in their capability – and AI powered chatbots (Digital Employees), which constantly learn and improve,” Warren explains, “Laybuy found that it was really valuable having a dedicated ‘champion’ to train the chatbot. For the chatbot to be most successful, the customer needs to get involved in onboarding and training their digital agent/employee – just like you train a human employee.”

This superior level of involvement, in turn, offers a greater opportunity for this example of retail tech to see payoff in how it ultimately benefits the customer experience.

“In retail, people expect great customer service experience all of the time. The retail landscape is incredibly competitive and failing to provide this first class customer service means lost customers and reduced sales,” says Rohloff, “In today’s environment, customers expect to have their enquiries answered quickly. Increasingly, we are living in a ‘now’ economy where customers demand almost instantaneous responses. AI-software such as Hugo can help companies like ours meet this demand.”

“But developing usable AI-software, which meets this need, requires genuine partnership. This is what we enjoyed when we partnered with Ambit to create Hugo. Ambit helped make the process simple as we worked together to train Hugo in the language of payments. The results we have seen since employing Hugo are testament to the strength of this partnership.”

And for a retail industry suffering acutely from labour and skills shortages, Ambit CEO Tim Warren suggests, retail tech solutions such as these which work for retailers and consumers alike are of particular value.

“Innovative tech solutions are extremely important to support retailers who are struggling with labour and skills shortages,” says Warren, “The most effective solutions are ones that add to the brand experience and solve customer problems, and are intuitive to use by retail staff.”

Ultimately, these examples of advancements made in the area of retail tech offer an embodiment of everything that is most exciting about technological developments more broadly, built around enhancing the experiences and easing the burdens of society as a whole. For all the anxieties of 2022 in the form of economic uncertainty, global weather catastrophes and geopolitical tensions, modern technology and its ongoing developments offer the greatest glimmers of hope for the future ahead.

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