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GUEST COMMENT Key questions surrounding the rush of autonomous technology in the UK

Image: Shutterstock

Image: Shutterstock

Autonomous stores are the next step for physical retail with large supermarket chains such as Tesco, Aldi and Sonae introducing this tech late last year. As we head to the pandemic “endgame” consumers will return to their increasingly busy lives so we will see quick and seamless shopping as an integral to the future of retail.

But what does this mean for retailers who are late to this innovation and want in? Or consumers who are worried about security concerns? Like all new tech introductions there are bound to be many questions and this piece will provide answers to these questions and provide a more holistic view of the value of autonomous stores.

Can autonomous stores be implemented easily?

Depending on the size of the store, autonomous technology can be implemented relatively quickly with a turnaround time of roughly two weeks for a 2,100 square foot store. There is usually a three-stage approach – planning, deployment, and operations. The planning stage involves a tactical analysis of the floor plan, where the technology is mapped out to fit seamlessly, allowing for a frictionless shopping experience. The deployment phase involves integrating the autonomous technology into the shop and automating the store. And finally, the operational phase is everything that comes once the store is open to the public, such as, software monitoring and maintenance.

The autonomous shopping experience can be offered to customers in fully autonomous or hybrid stores, depending on the retailer and their willingness to be inclusive. Hybrid stores enable retailers to offer a seamless queue-free shopping experience to customers with their app, while also allowing other shoppers to shop and pay at the cashier as usual.

Who benefits from autonomous technology and why?

Autonomous stores provide retailers with rich consumer insights. The surveillance technology provides insights on which products consumers are interacting with and how much time they spend on them. This allows retailers to make more informed decisions about store layouts and shelving, to help maximise sales.

During the pandemic, many retailers were in survival mode, now that the economy is opening back up, retailers want to thrive. But the retail landscape is not the same as it was 18 months ago, so they have to adapt to meet the needs of customers today. Autonomous stores have the potential to increase profit margins by nearly twice as much as traditional retail stores, thanks to the reduced labour costs and efficient product stocking.

Not only does this maximise revenue, it provides opportunities for new players to stand a fighting chance on the high street. Setting up a store on the high street has traditionally required substantial operating costs but checkoutless stores are removing some of the barriers to entry.

For one, autonomous stores can run 24/7 and don’t require staff to be present. Secondly, by removing the checkouts, retailers are affording themselves more floor space for products – and in retail, space is key.

Finally, automated stock management applications that checkoutless stores provide, allow for real time insights into stock counts. This technology is able to inform shop workers of the shelves that need replenishing and which products need to be reordered, making the inventory management process far more efficient and less time consuming.

How can we ensure they are as secure as traditional retail stores?

Autonomous stores provide many layers of store security. Anyone that walks into a store is monitored via a sophisticated network of cameras and sensors. There are many redundant software modules running in parallel, so even if you manage to sneak something past one module, one of the other ones would have picked it up

Retailers now see the value in this technology. They no longer need to worry about the security of their brick and mortar stores. Stores can remain open 24 hours a day, allowing retailers to maximise revenue and reduce costs while significantly improving convenience for the customers.

Are retail staff impacted?

Instead of threatening jobs, autonomous stores are upskilling workers by taking away the tasks that aren’t the best use of their time. Staff will now be able to move from behind the till and onto the shop floor, assisting customers as ‘store advisors’.

Autonomous stores won’t just benefit customers and businesses, they will also benefit the retail employees. Retail workers, especially those that work in supermarkets, are not currently working to their full potential, or performing value added tasks where they can truly interact with customers. They are often stuck behind a till or stock checking in the storeroom, doing work that could be automated to free them up to be on the shop floor. Changing the role of retail workers to ‘store advisors’, providing better customer support, will add great value to the customer shopping experience and help the transition into this future of retail much easier for consumers and businesses alike.

Checkoutless technology is the future

In 2022 consumers are accustomed to frictionless shopping experiences, something autonomous stores lend themselves to. This comes to light because of the growth of click-and-collect services, online shopping and self-checkouts. We’ve seen that convenience is the key to brand loyalty but now checkout-less technology opens the door to experiential opportunities. Given that top supermarket chains in the UK and across Europe are picking up this innovation and expanding its use, those who don’t grasp its benefits risk falling behind consumers’ constantly changing needs.


Diana Morato, chief revenue growth officer at Sensei

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