eCommerce platforms are creating compelling shopping experiences, enabling consumers to seamlessly browse products across multiple channels that offer free, two-day delivery options. But while these methods may satisfy consumers who shop from their homes, they don’t always work as well for those making on-the-go purchases. Next-day delivery offerings aren’t of much help to someone who’s gotten halfway through an airport terminal before realizing she needs to buy headphones, for instance. In such scenarios, the convenience offered by eCommerce sites falls short while on-the-ground retail wins the day.
eTailers may be eager to offer these spur-of-the-moment purchases, but not all are ready to or capable of building or renting full stores. Building out a physical location can be pricey, and choosing the right spot is a big decision.
Additionally, the online conveniences offered by digitally native brands may not translate as well to storefront expansions.
Despite these challenges, eTailers keen on extending their reaches to the physical world could accomplish their goals with small-footprint automated stores. Such solutions provide easy-to-manage, on-location sales channels, allowing merchants to offer their products in locations where high rent or limited space makes larger stores impractical, Gower Smith, CEO of automated retail solutions provider Swyft, recently told PYMNTS.
“We can put our brands where consumers need them most,” Smith said. “We tend to be in a time and place where consumers … have a need or a want and we deliver on that immediately — it’s all about immediate gratification.”
Making The Unattended Sale
Unattended retail solutions are well-suited to providing items like convenience goods, over-the-counter healthcare products or consumer electronics to passersby in high-traffic areas, Smith said. It is important, however, to carefully select which items to display to optimize sales.
Self-serve kiosks are limited in the number of items they can hold, and consumers who turn to them expect quick, intuitive experiences. Costumers using automated solutions prefer items that require little explanation, and retailers’ messaging and even item selections must be able to draw them in from up to 50 feet away, Smith noted.
Automated solutions aren’t just limited to kiosks in busy locations, though. Such offerings are also taking root inside traditional stores, playing critical roles for sellers who most connect with consumers through brick-and- mortar sales. Big-box grocery and convenience retailers that tend to experience high-traffic, for instance, stand to benefit from adding automated solutions at their stores. Such sections could look similar to online retail giant Amazon’s Amazon Go locations, he said.
Grocery stores, for instance, could better reach consumers by providing automated, self-serve grab-and-go sections, which cater to busy customers who want to skip the aisles and checkout lines. Such approaches, Smith pointed out, can be compared to ATMs outside bank lobbies as alternatives to interactions with tellers.
“We can put a cabinet at the front of the store with a range of products. Maybe some of the products are available on shelves in the store but, because [the cabinet is] there at the front of the store, it provides a very easy, convenient grab-and-go experience,” Smith said. “We can [also] bring other complementary products into the store with that.”
Businesses eager to provide grab-and-go experiences without offering kiosks could turn to shelves equipped with technology that recognizes when customers remove items. Such setups often rely on AI-enabled visioning technology coupled with other systems like shelf-based weight sensors. There are limits to this model, however. While grab-and-go technology caters to customers purchasing certain ready-made products, other types of goods require more secure handling. Strict regulations could make automated alcohol purchases impractical, for instance.
Nevertheless, adding automation can ease staff members’ workloads, freeing them up to keep checkout lines moving and promoting solutions that make use of the technology's benefits. As an example, Smith suggested that customers could validate their IDs and make payments for alcohol purchases in person before receiving codes to obtain their items from automated solutions.
Drawing In Data
eTailers turning to automated retail should view kiosks as integral parts of their omnichannel customer experiences. By integrating these solutions into their overall approaches, they can offer technologies that recognize customers’ store cards to provide personalized experiences. Such automated solutions could even offer product recommendations based on consumers’ most recent online purchases, Smith said.
Data sharing goes both ways, too, and staff at traditional brick-and-mortar stores would be able to further customize their consumers’ experiences by seeing the types of products they purchased from kiosks. Automated retail solutions can also capture details and analyze how well products are selling, helping brands determine which items to stock, where and how frequently to restock them. This information could also offer insight into the consumers interacting most frequently with automated systems, helping businesses tailor their product offerings.
“[Unattended retail] is not just about the automated retail box,” Smith said. “It’s not just about the automated retail hardware. It’s an integrated system [in which] the hardware should have features — for example, sensors — that integrate with the software system that’s managing it, so you have a lot more intelligence and ability to remotely control those stores.”
As unattended retail aims to help eCommerce brands and big-box retailers reach out to customers, sophisticated data gathering and analysis will help them capture consumers’ attention and learn more about their purchasing needs now, as well as which future offerings could benefit them most.