With recent technological advancements, the retail shopping experience has changed dramatically in just a few years. Believe it or not, more changes are on the way. The future for many retail settings is autonomous shopping.
But exactly does autonomous shopping mean? And what will it look like?
The answer is somehow simple and complicated at the same time.
With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at autonomous shopping, including what it’ll look like for both consumers and retailers in the future.
Why Autonomous? Why Now?
First, it’s important to understand why autonomous shopping is needed in the first place and why now is the right time for it to come to the forefront. For starters, there is data to suggest that the average person spends up to two years of their life waiting in line to buy goods. Needless to say, that’s not an efficient way to spend our time. If technology can help reduce the time spent waiting, why not use it?
Moreover, autonomous shopping is now a sign of the times. The COVID-19 pandemic created a health risk by simply standing in line next to strangers. Also, with brick-and-mortar retailers now competing with online retailers, they need to do something to improve the experience for shoppers. Using technology to make trips to the store quicker and more efficient is how retailers can do more to get the edge over online competitors.
What Are Autonomous Stores
Autonomous stores are those equipped with the technology that allows shoppers to find what they need, pay, and leave the store without interacting with a cashier or other employee. It creates a streamlined and frictionless experience that helps consumers get what they came for while saving time and reducing errors. Autonomous stores can utilize various technological solutions to develop the most efficient, reliable, and seamless system. From smart self-checkout stations to self-weighing shelves and cashless payments that allow consumers to get what they want without needing the help of an employee, the possibilities are endless.
As technology advances, we'll see more features added to autonomous stores that can help address consumer pain points and aid retailers in their efforts to streamline, reduce errors, and drive revenue.
Understanding the Tech
The technology involved in autonomous shopping is far from simple, although that doesn’t mean the process can’t be simple for customers. Self-checkout lines are a good start, but some companies are starting to use virtual shopping carts for employees to add every item they want, allowing them to leave the store without even needing to stop at a checkout station. This can be done by connecting mobile wallets that many consumers have that allow them to access autonomous shopping technology within stores.
There is far more that stores can do with this technology than help customers. For instance, smart technology can help businesses track everything that happens inside the store. This can help to understand consumer behavior and learn about shopping patterns and habits. It can also help stores track inventory levels and stay ahead of potential bottlenecks in the supply chain that have plagued many industries. In fact, the more data businesses can collect, the easier it’ll become to serve consumers and create an even more seamless experience for them. In some cases, the smart shelves within a store have been able to track every item picked up off a shelf, automatically ordering more inventory based on need while learning more about the products most in demand.
Addressing Customer Pain Points
Of course, the biggest reason for the push toward autonomous shopping is to address the various consumer pain points while shopping. As mentioned, standing in checkout lines is a huge waste of time for consumers. During busy periods, most notably the holiday season, the length of checkout lines can get out of control. This frustrates consumers and makes them want to stick to online shopping rather than visiting retail locations. With self-checkout stations at least being an option for shoppers, visiting brick-and-mortar locations can be a more streamlined experience.
However, autonomous shopping can go beyond skipping checkout counters. When businesses don’t have to dedicate employees to work at checkout counters, they can be used in customer service. This means helping consumers locate the items they need better and advising them if they need assistance. If nothing else, employees can spend their time ensuring that products are well-stocked and stores are clean, further reducing friction in the shopping experience. With autonomous shopping technology, the need for in-store employees isn’t always eliminated. Rather, stores can use those employees in more effective ways to address the pain points that customers experience in brick-and-mortar locations, ensuring they have a positive experience inside the store.
Benefits for Stores
Obviously, helping the customer should be the bigger priority for businesses that consider moving toward autonomous shopping. Providing the best products and shopping experience for consumers is ultimately what’s going to make a retail business succeed. But at the same time, there are additional benefits that retailers can gain from using autonomous shopping technology.
As mentioned, the technology involved in autonomous shopping will be able to feed businesses an endless stream of relevant information. As mentioned, smart scale technology can help to track inventory, making sure retailers don’t lose any business because items are out of stock. Tracking items as soon as they leave the shelf can also help to track potential theft inside the store. Even with security cameras in place and other measures, businesses still lose money because of in-store theft, which is an issue that smart technology can help to solve.
In addition to helping track when new items need to be ordered, smart technology can assist with stock management in other ways. It can track whether unsold items are ever pulled off shelves and at least considered as a purchase by customers. This can give insight into whether certain items might be overpriced or help discover other rationales as to why they aren’t selling as well as other products. Any insight that this technology can provide about consumer behavior can be useful in managing stock and organizing the layout of a store in different ways. Plus, space that was previously used for checking out customers could be used in other ways that can help to promote sales.
Autonomous shopping technology can also help brick-and-mortar stores to expand their hours without having to make a significant investment in employees being at the store during unusual hours. If technology can streamline the checkout process and help to protect the store from theft, there is no harm in staying open later or opening the store earlier. Depending on the nature of the business, more hours can add to the convenience for customers. In turn, that can help increase sales while also building brand loyalty - a never-ending quest for most businesses in today’s landscape.
Give the People What They Want
Again, brick-and-mortar stores need to stay focused on giving customers what they want, and autonomous shopping technology allows them to do just that. Retail surveys have indicated that roughly 75% of consumers are intrigued by autonomous stores, citing a frictionless experience and a large selection of goods as the reasons for their interest in autonomous shopping.
While some customers remain skeptical of certain aspects of autonomous shopping and the technology that goes with it, most are intrigued enough to try it. This means that now is the time for businesses to at least consider starting the transition to autonomous shopping and using emerging technology to help both consumers and themselves.