COMMENT: Autonomous technology is set to transform the holiday shopping experience


This Christmas season, in store customer traffic is expected to increase by 80.8 per cent compared to 2020. This influx of customers will leave many retailers grappling with overcrowded stores, empty shelves, and misplaced products.

This predicted surge in footfall, is largely due to the lifted restrictions and consumer fears over a repeat of last year’s Christmas shopping experience – which inconveniently left shelves empty during one of the most anticipated shopping events of the year.

So the question must be asked: How can retailers optimise sales, better manage the increased demand, and support their retail workers as they face the extra work and stress of holiday events?

The answer is technology, and more specifically, autonomous and hybrid stores. They are primed to help retailers during high-pressure shopping seasons and completely transform the retail experience.

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Adopting autonomous technology 

Depending on the size of the store, autonomous technology can be implemented relatively quickly with a turnaround time of roughly two weeks for a 2100 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. 

Autonomous and hybrid stores allow retailers to reduce queues, mitigate overcrowding, and gain valuable insights about their customers. 

As such, it’s a great way for retailers to modernise the way they operate in order to increase revenue, reduce cost, and offer a better customer experience, especially during the holidays.

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Improving the holiday shopping experience

To give customers a seamless, convenient, and quick in store shopping experience, autonomous retail technology uses two key elements: AI and sensor fusion. This combination allows retailers to analyse customer behaviour and extract valuable in-store insights. 

With the right tools powered with the right data, retailers can study consumers’ shopping behaviour, plan and execute tests in the physical store with immediate visibility of the results, knowing what will yield the most positive shopping experience.

Such tests can be in the form of shelf rearrangements or a full store layout redesign.

By optimising the store layout, retailers will be saving consumers time as they are more easily able to grab the items they need and leave, and the elimination of queues will do a lot to attract more customers to physical stores. 

Parents shopping with kids, for example, won’t be worried about being stuck in the extra long holiday line, with a child that’s throwing a tantrum. So many hours are wasted waiting in line. Autonomous store technology puts the customer first and allows people to treat stores like an extension of their home pantries. 

They can go in, grab anything they want, and just leave. 

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Bringing physical retail into the future 

We are accelerating towards an autonomous retail future, where physical stores will have to evolve or struggle to compete with stores offering frictionless shopping experiences. 

This year alone, we have seen retailers like Amazon, Tesco and Aldi, integrate autonomous technology in more of their stores. Continente Labs in Lisbon has seen great success with its first autonomous store, where the non-pervasive design of this technology is delivering a fast, easy, and convenient shopping experience to customers.

Retailers now see the value in this technology. They no longer need to worry about the security of their brick and mortar stores. 

Anyone walking into the store is identified and monitored through a sophisticated network of cameras and sensors. Therefore, stores can remain open 24 hours a day, allowing retailers to maximise revenue and reduce costs while significantly improving convenience for the customers. 

So, as we look forward to holiday seasons to come, it’s clear what the retail experience will look like. 

We will see autonomous technology and real time stock management deliver fast, frictionless, and convenient shopping for customers. 

This will transform the retail experience to one better equipped to deal with seasonal shopping pressures and the future of retail. 

by Nuno Moutinho, chief technology officer of Sensei



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