To boost the bottom line and get consumers interested, actively engaged and ready to spend, retailers have increasingly been turning to advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to fine-tune businesses — in real time.
That’s especially true with unattended retail, where consumers have become more comfortable with self-service. In an interview with PYMNTS, Anant Agrawal, executive vice president of USA Technologies, said technology can help fuel business efficiencies for merchants keen on capturing mind share and wallet share at the kiosk and across a variety of settings.
In terms of general trends, he told PYMNTS, “We continue to see technology impact and change the way consumers buy. The less time and effort it takes to acquire a product or service, the better the experience is for the consumer.” And, he said, this trend now has extended to the actual shopping experience, not just the payment aspect of commerce.
As he told PYMNTS, the stage is set for the rise of unattended retail, because consumers find that having to talk to or deal with a human to get something they already know they want is a subpar shopping experience.
Unattended retail, he said, can fill a gap in the commerce continuum, offering consumers just about anything they want, whenever they want it — in the most convenient settings possible.
“Take for example, Amazon Go,” he said, “where the locations popping up everywhere are giving consumers a way to walk in and walk out without ever having talked to a person.” Other unattended retail offerings can be as far-flung as having the ability to get keys copied using a machine at the hardware store (without having to wait at the counter for help) or even getting a quick massage on an automated chair while sitting waiting for a flight at the airport.
Beyond the benefits that accrue to consumers in terms of convenience, Agrawal said, merchants who embrace emerging technologies and unattended retail at the same time also find that innovation helps improve operating efficiencies. The improved margins come with integrating several parts of the business itself. Here, he said, machine learning and AI capture and analyze data, translating information into actionable decisions.
“The question has always been, ‘What if you can better predict when your consumers will buy, and what they’ll be buying?’ With that information you can better optimize logistics and delivery of those goods and services,” he said. Machine learning has allowed a granularity of insight that helps merchants determine where to put their offerings within the kiosks and machines in an effort to maximize sales, what items to choose from the warehouse and how many of a particular item should be stocked. The logistics, said Agrawal, can be carried out efficiently, and without errors tied to manual processes, in real time.
Managing operations in the field with speed and efficiency becomes paramount as unattended retailers expand operations. The ice cream vendor experimenting with a new, unattended offering is initially focused in the startup phase on seeing if there is consumer demand for that first, lone machine. The business is not, off the bat, focused on what it will take to manage hundreds or even thousands of machines.
“That’s when they really have to focus on building data-driven systems and software that can help automate the decision-making process,” he told PYMNTS, including what machines to stock (or even fix) and when.
That level of insight is costly from a time management (and operating) perspective without robust data management in place.
There’s also the opportunity, with the use of emerging technologies, to drive consumer demand through digital advertising. USA Technologies’ own customers have been experimenting with various screen configurations and messaging at their kiosks, said Agrawal, and they are finding value in personalized promotions offered at the point of sale.
As efficiencies and customer engagements increase, he said, many retailers finding success in one niche will look for adjacent revenue opportunities.
“The core competencies evolve around managing the machines themselves,” he said. Against this backdrop, laundry machine operators may serve air/vac machines at gas stations used to inflate tires, to name just one example.
“You'll see traditionally vertically-focused operators expanding into other verticals,” he predicted.
Asked by PYMNTS about what trends may lie ahead for payments themselves in the unattended retail setting, Agrawal noted that cashless transactions are gaining traction, and cash usage will decrease.
“When you look at how many companies are introducing invisible payments like Uber, where the consumer just gets out of the car and never transacts with a payment device, that’s potentially where we're going to continue to see the world — and thus unattended retail — go,” he told PYMNTS.