To borrow that famous quote from the great American author Mark Twain, reports of the death of the physical retail store have been greatly exaggerated.
There’s no question that the rise of online shopping has provided a pause to consider what a modern retail store should be but there’s still plenty of life in it as long as the old dog can offer new tricks.
Especially as the ever-increasing demands of Millennials give way to the even more demanding Generation Z – a new type of consumer that is the driving force behind the retail store of the future. And according to Accenture, this generation will equate to 40% of consumers by 2020.
The Apple-led creation of the tech savvy ‘Gen Z’ shopper – a shopper that has never known a world without Facebook, Google, Apple or Amazon - means they know what kind of technology is out there and what they should be getting as they enter a high street store. And as any successful progressive retailer will tell you – you can’t afford to be one step behind your customer.
The retail industry is undergoing the most radical technology-driven sea change since Henry Ford produced his Ford Model T in 1913 and opened up the world of retail by enabling consumers to go beyond their local ‘Ma and Pa’ store to larger outlets with greater choice.
The new age of the connected consumer where Millennials and Gen Z have, on average, three connected devices and spend about 4 hours a day on their mobile is rewriting the retail rulebook. It’s the main reason that Cybera has spent so much time bringing guest Wi-Fi services over SD-WAN to retailers and combining these services with wireless visitor analytics apps, geo fencing, proximity-based marketing, and beacons to enhance customer loyalty programmes and reduce customer churn.
Indeed, SD-WAN technology has become a cornerstone of the modern progressive retailer’s omnichannel offering as it delivers a seamless and fluid customer experience in-store and through multi-channel environments – and plays a key secure role in a retailer’s digital transformation.
But what is the key area with the potential to create the biggest change in how we shop in the future? The checkout process. This is an area that retailers have spent decades trying to reconfigure and make easier and simpler, but they had to wait for technology to provide the answers.
Mobile payments have changed the game here with Gen Z – that truly mobile native – seemingly hellbent on killing of cash as they look to rewrite the payment ecosystem.
From Apple Pay to Google Pay, this is the chosen payment for the shopper of the future but it’s also given rise to what should be the most significant change to the physical retail experience – the cashierless store.
The cashierless store is the ultimate in artificial intelligence-powered retail and no prizes for guessing that Amazon is leading the way here as well with its AmazonGo format.
As Amazon prepares to open 3,000 cashierless grocery stores within the next three years, it is mining its vast amount of data collected from customers to ascertain exactly what items to stock. Machine learning algorithms and sensors, transport consumers on their retail journey, informing Amazon of what they have purchased and charging it to their pre-existing Amazon account.
The format is another classic example of Amazon staying one step ahead of its consumers and rivals.
Yes, so far, the stores are small format with limited stock but it’s doubtful that will last long – remember Amazon was just an upstart online bookseller at one time. It lives to adapt and expand.
And of course, the imitators are on the way with Inokyo presenting an independent spin on the cashierless store using cameras to track what you grab from shelves and then charge you with a single QR scan of its app on your way in and out of the store.
US start-up Zippin is another player and has just presented its vision for an automated store, utilising AI, machine learning and visual cognition technology.
Here, the consumer simply downloads the Zippin app – containing their store “key” or QR code which is scanned to gain entry – and connects their preferred payment method.
Cameras and smart shelf sensors track when and which products are picked up or put back and customers receive a receipt detailing their charges when they are ready to purchase and leave.
Most significantly though, two traditional US store giants have just announced they are entering the fray too in the shape of Walmart – through its Sam’s Club stores – and convenience chain 7-Eleven.
The newly named Sam’s Club Now stores will use the Sam’s Club Scan & Go app to add products to the customers’ receipt as they shop and then allow them to pay through the app with a single click and simply leave the store. Some 700 cameras are being used to keep customers honest and monitor inventory levels.
You can pretty much expect the cashierless format to be used at Walmart itself in time if all goes to plan at its discount store brand.
Meanwhile, 7-Eleven is trialling 14 stores with scan-and-go technology built into the company’s mobile app, so customers can scan and pay for items on their phones.
When a customer is near one of these special stores, the Scan & Pay feature will automatically appear within the company’s rewards app, enabling customers to scan barcodes of items and pay directly through their phones, either with a card, Apple Pay or Google Pay. Upon leaving, the customers scan a QR code in the store to confirm they paid.
The cashierless store is no longer a gimmick with the world’s biggest retailer now dipping its toe and the new generation of tech-focused shoppers eager to support it.
AI-driven autonomous stores? It’s music to the ears of Gen Z shoppers - when they don’t have their AirPods in.