Rethinking Retail in the Times of Crisis

Date: October 20, 2020

Author: Ipshita Biswas

The deepest recession since the second world war has caused distress in every industry sector, some getting impacted more than the others. Sectors like Technology, Healthcare and Pharmaceuticals, which are perceived as relatively stable ones, are seeing a moderate dip in revenue.

In order to cope with the challenges posed by the drastic changes in the current scenario, most companies have taken the aid of technologies to stay afloat and stay competitive. McKinsey's survey has found that as a response to the pandemic, the adoption of technologies, primarily digital in nature, has accelerated by at least three to four years and a good fraction of such changes are expected to have made a permanent entry. E-commerce was steadily growing for the past 20 years, but the pandemic has made the slope suddenly steeper. In Q1 of 2020, e-commerce comprised of 11.8% of the total retail sales, which got topped by the sales of Q2 being 16.2% of the total retail sales.

It's not just the interaction that's trending towards digital. The pandemic has seen a surge even in the portfolio of digital offerings. This trend is evident across sectors and geographies. Banking and Financial service is one such essential sector whose continued operation is imperative for a stable society. Asian banks, alongside maintaining the hygienic protocols and temperature screening implementation, had to accelerate their shift towards digital channels. They had to increase the use of the existing digital channels alongside rapidly digitizing the core banking processes like KYC, Signature collection, and document submission. Healthcare providers adopting online consultations is yet another example.

In times of economic slowdowns, companies tend to refrain from investing in innovations and focus more on solving the fundamental challenges. But, according to a report from McKinsey, “History suggests that companies that invest in innovation through a crisis outperform peers during recovery.” And that’s exactly what is being seen in the retail sector. The brick and mortar only store alongside adopting omnichannel ecosystems is further transforming their physical stores.

The following are the technological innovations retailers across the world are embracing or are planning to adopt to continue their operations within the safety limits. Most of these innovations are meant to make a permanent entry into retail space as their use-cases have far-reaching impacts on improving efficiencies, reducing costs and providing enhanced employee satisfaction.

Augmented Reality and Virtual reality

AR/VR in Retail – Rethinking Retail in the Times of Crisis - PathPartnerTech

Figure 1: AR/VR in Retail – Rethinking Retail in the Times of Crisis - PathPartnerTech

As the pandemic has made people unable or terrified to visit stores, VR can give the customers tours of the complete stores without actually visiting them. From the comfort of their homes, customers can check out the required products, inspect them carefully, and make the purchasing decision.

Ikea introduced Ikea Place, an ARKit app allowing users to get a 3D preview of any furniture he chooses inside his home or office. This enables the users to make hassle-free furniture purchases from the comfort of their homes. A virtual fitting room is another interesting AR/VR application in stores that can potentially gain prominence in the current scenario. Allowing people to physically try on the clothes will require repeated sanitization, which might ruin the fabric with time. Virtual fitting rooms look like the most convenient option, enabling the customers to virtually try on the desired clothes just by standing in front of a mirror. Topshop implemented the virtual fitting room in their Moscow store.

According to reports from Statista, the VR industry is steadily growing. In 2019, the market size of VR hardware and software was 6.2 billion USD, which is forecasted to cross 16 billion USD by 2022. Statista has further predicted that by 2023, AR/VR technology in Retail showcasing will see an investment of 3.9 billion USD.

According to the Virtual & Augmented Reality report from Goldman Sachs, the revenue from AR/VR retail software alone is forecasted to reach USD 1.6 billion by 2025.

Digital Transformation was never this crucial for retailers. Alongside enriching consumer experience, AR/VR will help retailers reduce operating costs.

Contactless Payment

Over the years, Costco and Target have already adopted contactless payment options. The pandemic has made contactless payments and cashier-less technologies further significant. Retailers like Amazon, 7-Eleven, Postmates and FutureProof are already giving their customers the option of contactless and cashier-less payments alongside the option of mobile checkout.

Checkout this whitepaper on how to secure contactless smart cards with NFC smart card security.

Occupancy Detection

Occupancy Detection in Retail – Rethinking Retail in the Times of Crisis - PathPartnerTech

Figure 2: Occupancy Detection in Retail – Rethinking Retail in the Times of Crisis - PathPartnerTech

With the reopening of stores, retailers have to maintain the safe occupancy level with the least manual intervention. Sensors, smart cameras can play a crucial role here. Occupancy detectors can automatically control the access given to customers, can fire an alarm once the breach is detected. Such sensors can be extended to provide in-store analytics like which are peak hours of the day, which areas experience the highest foot-fall. These analytics can be further utilised to forecast traffic levels and optimize resources accordingly.

PathPartner offers high accuracy, real-time and highly reliable Radar SDK for various next-gen use-cases requiring People Detection, People Counting, Distance Measurement, Security Solution, Access Control, and many more Industrial or Consumer space. The SDK is available on leading radar sensors. However, it can be easily ported on any custom board. It includes high-performance algorithms for all radar pipeline components, including the direction of arrival, thresholding, clustering, and tracking. With well-defined APIs, the SDK or individual algorithms can be seamlessly integrated with your end application across various domains. We also offer services for use-case specific integration and optimizations.

In-store and Warehouse Robots

In-store Robots – Rethinking Retail in the Times of Crisis - PathPartnerTech

Figure 3: In-store Robots – Rethinking Retail in the Times of Crisis - PathPartnerTech

Retailer like Walmart, has robots to inspect shelves which can automatically check inventory levels. Lowe, the US based home improvement retailer, had already introduced the LoweBot in its San Francisco stores in 2016. LoweBot is meant to provide enhanced customer service by answering the customer queries alongside keeping real-time track of the inventory levels across the store shelves.

Target, too, had tested its in-store robot named Tally, which is primarily meant to monitor inventory levels and the product prices, using its visual recognition software.

Checkout our video on Object Detection using 3D ToF Sensor. Our RTLS Reference Solution can improve the customer experience, optimize routine operations and effectively target marketing activities. Check out this video to know more.

Safe Distancing

Social Distancing in Stores – Rethinking Retail in the Times of Crisis - PathPartnerTech

Figure 4: Social Distancing in Stores – Rethinking Retail in the Times of Crisis - PathPartnerTech

Maintaining the minimum permitted distance is the norm every public place is required to follow. When it comes to the retail sector, not just the customers, even the employees working in warehouses, are required to abide by the protocol. That's how the need for wearables arises, which can automatically ensure that safe distances are maintained. Technological advances have enabled us to design and develop devices that help us maintain a safe distance from others, thereby controlling the pandemic's spread.

The Safe-Distance kit developed by PathPartner, PP-SD Kit, is a compact wearable that would enable individuals to maintain safe proximity from others. Vibration alerts do this in case of violation in social distance norms. The kit utilizes the UWB (Ultra-Wideband) Technology for determining the distance between any two individuals.

The point to ponder is, can technology make customers get back to their shopping spree?

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