Brick-and-mortar retail can get a bad rap these days, as its considered old-fashioned and on the decline. But recent developments show that innovation in commerce does indeed happen in this area of retail.
Grocery stores stand as a good example of all that. As described in a recent PYMNTS interview, Ahmed Beshry, co-founder at Caper, talked about how so-called smart grocery carts might serve to please different types of customers and a variety of grocery operators.
The discussion took place at an exciting time. Not only are autonomous retail technologies and other tools transforming the grocery shopping experience, but Caper is coming off a new $10 million funding round. However, as Caper strives to expand and win over more consumers and store owners, it has to find ways to serve all types of shoppers — all of whom, after all, need to buy food and related items one way or another.
“A lot of people love grocery shopping,” he said. “Some like looking in the aisles, thinking about what they want. That’s why [the] brick-and-mortar retailer isn’t going anywhere. You cannot replace that experience (online).” Then again, many people loathe grocery shopping but still need to do it, and often need to do it in person for various reasons. The idea is to find a technology that can, in a sense, serve both masters.
That’s where the smart grocery cart idea comes it.
The device is based around the concept of self-checkout, and uses sensors and computer vision to determine what is in the cart (and what was taken out), and charge accordingly. As Beshry told Webster, the carts have scales that can weigh produce, and the artificial intelligence-backed technology can make product recommendations — for instance, a recipe inspired by specific ingredients put into the cart. The cart also offers users the ability to bag their items. The plan is for Caper to deploy more than 1,000 such carts with North American grocers before the year ends.
Other newer technology also can help breathe new life into brick-and-mortar retail.
One idea, as explained in a recent PYMNTS interview with Adam Levene, founder of a retail technology company called Hero, is to plug the physical store, so to speak, into the larger digital and mobile worlds where consumers are increasingly operating. That means, among other tasks, helping to enable in-store retail associates to use the latest mobile technology — and that includes emerging 5G mobile network technology — to better serve consumers and offer a deeper customer experience.
“It’s a great time to be transforming retail,” Levene said. “And retailers are making bigger bets on [omnichannel] technology.”
Indeed, such technology is being used by retailers to better meet consumers on their own terms and platforms. In general, omnichannel consists of consumers researching an item online, then going into a store and talking to salespeople, or just using their smartphones in the store to research the item there. They check the prices of what they want (showrooming), then buy the item online because it’s cheaper there.
The Hero proposition basically comes down to this: deploying its mobile app so store employees can interact with consumers online. For instance, via its work with Nike, Hero has deployed its app to certain Nike stores, and that means consumers can communicate with associates working at the nearest store and use video, chat and live streaming to get advice about size, colors and other product choices.
Don’t count out brick-and-mortar retail when it comes to innovation — not yet.