Re­tail­ers eye new tech, data to re­vive for­tunes

Sunday Times (Sri Lanka) - - INTERNATIONAL - By Rob Lever

LAS VE­GAS, (AFP) - With ro­bots, aug­mented re­al­ity dis­plays and other ad­vanced tech­nolo­gies, tra­di­tional re­tail­ers are tak­ing a cue from the on­line world to find new ways to con­nect and keep cus­tomers.

The 2019 Con­sumer Elec­tron­ics Show (CES) in Las Ve­gas fea­tured dozens of ex­hibitors show­cas­ing how brick and mor­tar sell­ers can ramp up com­pe­ti­tion against the likes of Ama­zon and other on­line mer­chants -- and cope with what some call a re­tail apoca­lypse.

Chi­nese re­tail giants JD. com and Sun­ing each had a large pres­ence at the show in search of part­ners for their “re­tail as a ser­vice” strat­egy, to al­low mer­chants to plug into new tech plat­forms.

“We be­lieve the fu­ture of re­tail is not about on­line or off­line, it's bound­ary-less,” said JD com­mu­ni­ca­tions man­ager Yuchuan Wang.

JD showed how re­tail­ers can use aug­mented re­al­ity screens that al­low shop­pers to use ges­ture con­trol to vir­tu­ally try on and buy cloth­ing and beauty prod­ucts. With these sys­tems, a re­tailer might not need to stock all ap­parel prod­ucts in all sizes, en­abling the con­sumer to sim­ply click on an item in the store and have it de­liv­ered rapidly.

One of China's largest re­tail­ers, JD also show­cased the use of de­liv­ery ro­bots and drones which are be­ing used in China, ca­pa­ble of reach­ing most Chi­nese con­sumers within a day or two.

Skip the cashier

Sun­ing, which claims to be China's largest omni- chan­nel re­tailer, also showed aug­mented re­al­ity re­tail try-ons as well as its cashier-free store sim­i­lar to the Ama­zon Go model.

“I can pick up an ap­ple and it tells me how much the price is,” said Sun­ing strat­egy di­rec­tor Wat­son Wat, who was show­ing CES at­ten­dees how its tech­nol­ogy can be ap­plied. “And with my prod­ucts I just walk out and it uses fa­cial recog­ni­tion to iden­tify and charge me.” Sun­ing an­nounced it was seek­ing part­ner­ships with re­tail­ers for its “brain of smart re­tail” that could en­able stores to use its tech­nol­ogy.

“I be­lieve the tech­nol­ogy is ma­ture now, it's af­ford­able,” Wat said.

Smart mir­rors

Else­where, Proc­ter & Gam­ble's booth at CES showed how cus­tomers can use aug­mented re­al­ity and fa­cial recog­ni­tion built into mir­rors to get per­son­alised rec­om­men­da­tions for skin care and beauty prod­ucts.

“We cap­ture a unique iden­ti­fi­ca­tion for each per­son and de­liver per­son­alised re­sults to them” on the ba­sis of ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence, said P&G's Tina McCarthy.

SoftBank Ro­bot­ics demon­strated how re­tail­ers can use two dif­fer­ent kinds of ro­bots -- one to in­ter­act with cus­tomers and an­other to mon­i­tor in­ven­tory and store shelves -- to help im­prove bot­tom lines.

SoftBank is part­ner­ing with Tally, made by Simbe Ro­bot­ics, which scans store shelves to keep bet­ter track of what is avail­able. “There is a mas­sive prob­lem in the re­tail space be­tween what the sys­tem says is on the shelf and what re­ally is there,” said Steve Car­lin of SoftBank Ro­bot­ics.

A more ac­cu­rate sys­tem can help deal with mer­chan­dise which is over­stocked or un­der­stocked, he added. We can start to push the right type of ad­ver­tise­ments or in­cen­tives to shop the things that are over-in­ven­to­ried,” he said.

Get­ting to know you

SoftBank's hu­manoid ro­bot Pep­per is team­ing up on the ef­fort by in­ter­act­ing with cus­tomers, in­clud­ing us­ing fa­cial recog­ni­tion to greet cus­tomers by name and guide them to prod­ucts.

“For re­tail­ers, they know a lot about you on­line but don't re­ally know you at all in the store,” Car­lin said. Of­fer­ing sug­ges­tions in the same man­ner as on­line re­tail­ers can make sense. “Re­tail­ers are al­ways try­ing to get one more item in the bas­ket,” Car­lin said. “They can't get more foot traf­fic but they are hop­ing to get more items in the bas­ket.” Maeve Duska of USA Tech­nolo­gies, said many re­tail­ers are step­ping up ef­forts to keep up with the Ama­zon Go con­cept where cus­tomers can walk out and pay au­to­mat­i­cally with­out wait­ing for check­out, a con­cept known as “unat­tended re­tail.” “Fi­nally the brick and mor­tar re­tailer un­der­stands how much com­pe­ti­tion there is from on­line,” said Duska, who spoke at a CES panel on high-tech re­tail­ing.

“They are try­ing to du­pli­cate the on­line ex­pe­ri­ence.” With fa­cial recog­ni­tion to iden­tify the cus­tomer and fin­ger­print and retina scans which can be used for pay­ment, re­tail­ers are dis­cov­er­ing ways to speed up the re­tail ex­pe­ri­ence, often with­out in­ter­act­ing with a hu­man.

“We're very much a self-ser­vice so­ci­ety,” she said. For many younger shop­pers, “they do not want to talk to peo­ple” in the store.

Tem­pered ex­pec­ta­tions

An­a­lyst Bren­dan Witcher of For­rester Re­search, an­other CES panel par­tic­i­pant, said some tech­nolo­gies like vir­tual and aug­mented re­al­ity can of­fer value for some goods that can help cus­tomers vi­su­alise cloth­ing or other items.

But he cau­tioned against too much op­ti­mism about the use of data an­a­lyt­ics and ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence to mar­ket in the man­ner of Ama­zon.

(Photo by Robyn Beck / AFP)

At­ten­dees in­ter­act with the AIBO ro­botic com­pan­ion dog at CES 2019. AIBO has life-like move­ments and a unique per­son­al­ity which de­vel­ops over time through in­ter­ac­tion with peo­ple and it learns through pos­i­tive and neg­a­tive re­in­force­ment.

A live demon­stra­tion uses ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence and fa­cial recog­ni­tion in dense crowd spa­tial-tem­po­ral tech­nol­ogy at the Hori­zon Ro­bot­ics ex­hibit at the CES 2019 in Las Ve­gas on Jan 10.(Photo by David Mcnew / AFP)

(Photo by Robyn Beck/AFP)

The Pillo, an all-in-one pill dis­penser, per­sonal dig­i­tal as­sis­tant, and com­mu­ni­ca­tion de­vice is dis­played at CES.

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