Use of Robots retail technology

Computers that learn and think — virtual robots as well as physical ones on store aisles to help shoppers — will be the next wave of technology to permeate the fashion and retail markets.

After years of investments to support omnichannel commerce, retailers and brands are now looking at automation, machine learning, cognitive computing and the Internet of Things (IoT) technologies to evolve the shopping experience as well as improve product life cycles, according to the latest survey by solution provider Zebra Technologies. The 2017 Retail Vision Study queried close to 1,700 retail executives from North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia-Pacific and the Middle East.

Researchers of the report said over the next five years, retailers and brands will deploy “smart technologies” as a way to provide “shoppers with new levels of personalization, speed and convenience.” The study is a follow-up to a global report published in 2012.

“The study revealed that nearly 70 percent of retail decision makers surveyed are ready to make changes to adopt the Internet of Things, and 65 percent plan to invest in automation technologies for inventory management and planogram compliance by 2021,” the researchers said.

Tom Moore, industry lead for retail and hospitality in North America at Zebra Technologies, told WWD that he wasn’t surprised by the findings of this year’s study. He cited the “overwhelming interest” in these topics by attendees at the National Retail Federation Big Show in January.

“The results of the survey validate what my team is hearing everyday on the ground,” Moore said, adding that retailers are looking for solutions to help them overcome the challenges of today’s retail market, “which has left many companies behind,” he noted.

Moore said the “brick-and-mortar retail market is undergoing a significant transformation,” and technology is driving much of it. At NRF, for example, Moore said many of the discussions he and his team had with retailers centered on fulfillment. This means more than just getting a product to a consumer, he said. The goal is to fully integrate e-commerce with the physical store, which requires complete visibility of inventory on an stockkeeping-unit level. Indeed, regarding the integration of online and in-store, 78 percent of respondents in the survey said it was “business critical” to do so.

Retailers are also faced with other challenges — such as retaining customers while acquiring new ones. Retailers and brands are expected to be masters of personalization, customization and convenience. “The continued rise of online shopping will challenge retailers to provide unprecedented levels of convenience to help drive customer loyalty,” the Zebra report noted. “By 2021, 65 percent of retailers plan to explore innovative delivery services, such as delivering to workplaces, homes and even parked cars.”

The survey found that “nearly 80 percent of retailers will be able to customize the store visit for customers as a majority of them will know when a specific customer is in the store. This will be enabled through technology such as micro-locationing, allowing retailers to capture more data, accuracy and customer insights.”

Mobile devices are expected to play an important role. “To speed check-out lines, retailers are planning to invest in mobile devices, kiosks and tablets to increase payment options,” the researchers noted. “Eighty-seven percent of retailers will deploy mobile point-of-sale [MPOS] devices by 2021, enabling them to scan and accept credit or debit payments anywhere in the store.”

And if they’re not already learning how to better leverage data, retailers are expected to make it a priority. “By 2021, at least 75 percent of retailers anticipate investing in predictive and software analytics for loss prevention and price optimization along with cameras and video analytics for operational purposes and improving the overall customer experience,” the report stated.

Regarding automation and robotics, the report said 57 percent of respondents “believe automation will shape the industry by 2021 — helping retailers pack and ship orders, track inventory, check in-store inventory levels and assist customers in finding items.”

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