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4 Tech Trends in Retail’s ‘New Normal’

Ryan Hall Manager, Vertical Solutions Marketing Published 2 Feb 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced retail businesses to take a step back to adjust how they service shoppers and conduct day-to-day operations.  While the industry faces a ‘new normal’, retailers are utilizing innovative technologies to keep customers safe and the business profitable.  

Stay Seated

Since the outbreak of the pandemic, availability and adoption of curbside pickup has greatly increased as customers seek safe, touchless options for purchasing goods.  Curbside pickup allows businesses to keep their lights on, keep their staff safe and employed, and meet customer demands.  An early adopter of the service, Target “Drive Up” enables customers to shop in the Target app, drive to the designated parking spot, and have items delivered straight to the car.  Like many transformative digital initiatives, COVID-19 has given many retailers the push to introduce curbside pickup option to shoppers looking for an effortless and time-efficient way to shop.  Neil Saunders, Manager Director of Retail Consultancy for Global Data shared, “Following this crisis, I think it (curbside) will become more commonplace at all different types of retailers.  It is a very convenient way of getting goods and consumers who have used it seem to like it.  Target has seen great growth from curbside pickup… I suspect other retailer will see this as a viable solution over the long term.”  Some retail stores like Best Buy, Michaels, and Dick’s Sporting Goods chose to adopt their own curbside pickup system as part of the ‘new retail norm.” 

While curbside pickup gives retailers the chance to expand services outside the physical store footprint, meeting the unprecedented demands impacting the industry today, it is crucial retailers are best equipped to support these use cases and ones like it.  No matter the type of environment or size of the business, to effectively achieve forward-thinking use cases like curbside pickup, retailers’ need a flexible, scalable, secure IT solution.  As part of the industry’s ‘new normal,’ technology adoption and digital transformation is accelerating.  Extreme’s IT networking solutions for the industry are helping retail businesses establish success in the ‘new normal’ today.

A Virtual Shopping Experience

Augmented Reality (AR) is a leading digital innovation to help overcome challenges consumers face while purchasing from home.  By adding digital content onto a live camera feed, AR creates the illusion that what is displayed on your smart device is part of the real world.  AR technology is enhancing the shopping experience in various retail segments: whether it allows customers to view furniture in their living room, try on sunglasses, or even “apply” makeup.

For brands with AR technology already in place, such as a global furniture retailer Ikea, businesses are prepared to meet the demands of consumers during a time where customers are asked to stay home.  Through a smartphone app, Ikea customers get a preview of how pieces of furniture will look in different areas of the home.  While stores are predominately utilizing AR through mobile services, AR is quickly creating unique in-store shopping experiences too.  For instance, trying on clothing in a traditional dressing room is being replaced with virtual dressing rooms powered by high-definition screens.  Makeup counters will leverage smart mirrors allowing customers to test products without ever touching the physical product.  With augmented reality, retailers can bridge the gap between the digital and physical landscape to help provide safer, enhanced shopping experiences for customers.

Robots on the Rise

With the reduced capacity of employees and customers permissible in stores at the same time, robots are assisting in everyday tasks and doing their part to keep customers safe.  Retail stores are leveraging robotic technology in fulfillment and in-store functions to handle materials, track inventory, and clean surfaces .  Walmart relies on Alphabot, a robot created by Alert Innovation, to deliver refrigerated and frozen items to an associate, who then transports items to the customer.  While produce and fresh items are picked by associates, Alphabot accelerates the retrieval process and decreases the number of touchpoints in a retail environment.  Tally, made by Simbe Robotics, is a robot responsible for alerting workers to out-of-stock items or problems related to the presentation of merchandise.  Tally spends the workday monitoring shelves and transmitting data to inform employees when and where to restock items.  Due to the reduced number of in-store employees, Tally plays an integral role in reducing the time employees spend up and down the aisles.  Both Alphabot and Tally are only two of many robots utilized throughout the retail industry today.  With the industry facing heightened demands under its ‘new normal’ robotics will continue to be a key technology to assist employees in fulfilling orders, providing safe customer experiences, and efficiently checking inventory.

Effortless ESL Technology

Retailers with Electronic Shelf-Labeling (ESL) already in place have a leg up in the industry’s ‘new normal,’ as the solutions are proven to enhance the in-store experience, decrease operational costs, and reduce physical touch points in the store.  ESL systems digitally display product pricing on shelves; prices are automatically updated and controlled  from a central server.  ESL technologies, like Electronic Shelf Tags, equips retailers with the functionality to wirelessly update their pricing saving valuable time on what was once a manual operation.  Not to mention, the ability to streamline price changes gives retailers the opportunity to match nearby competitors in a timely manner.  Grocery store Kroger partnered with Microsoft to create Enhanced Display for Grocery Environment , an ESL innovation that is connected by IoT (Internet of Things) sensors,  to beam real-time information from the aisles and endcaps in stores.  Along with the efficient price changes, Kroger’s digital displays include promotions, advertising messages, and dietary information to shoppers. 

With ESL is growing in popularity throughout the grocery industry, Extreme worked with a furniture brand to deploy an IoT electronic shelf-labeling system to offload time-consuming tasks to enable employees to refocus on customer satisfaction.  By controlling digital price tags from a central location, ESL technology is contributing to a more efficient and safer in-store experience.

To learn how Extreme enables safe, efficient, quality retail experiences in the ‘new normal’ check out the resources below:

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