4월 30, 2024

3 smart retail technologies helping brands reach new levels with AI

Technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), augmented reality (AR), automation, and more are transforming almost every industry worldwide. Each year new applications and refinements emerge, taking us one step closer to the hyper efficient, data-driven future these innovations have long promised.

We’re at a point now where it’s a matter of when, not if, these breakthroughs become mainstays of company operations. And one sector that’s well on its way towards a smarter, more efficient future is the retail industry.

AI in retail is set to take off, going from $9.36 billion in 2024 to 85.07 billion by 2032 — a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 31.8%. A similar story is developing for retail automation technologies, going from $12.2 billion in 2021 to $33 billion by 2030.

Next-day delivery, e-commerce, reverse logistics — out of necessity retailers have had to adapt to meet customer demands and expectations. As a result, companies have invested in technology at multiple levels to improve their service: in-store, online, and in the warehouse.

Take returns, for example, where easy-to-print shipping labels and online forms allow shoppers to send things back almost as quickly as they received them. Or curbside pick-up, where shoppers can browse and purchase what they want online and receive it a few hours later at a local brick-and-mortar location.

AI and automation make those interactions seamless for consumers while streamlining the logistics that allow it to function at scale. Simply put, today’s digital technologies allow brands to remain competitive, resilient, and adaptive.

So, with that in mind, here’s a sample of three transformative retail technologies that are continuing that trend. And thanks to AI, these tools are more practical, streamlined, and easy to adopt than ever before.

RFID in retail: What’s old is new again — and better

Radio-frequency identification (RFID) isn’t a recent technology, having been around for decades. But its cost-effectiveness, capabilities, and applications have improved dramatically over the years. And a good place to see these huge strides in action is in retail.

In a nutshell, RFID uses radio waves to communicate wirelessly between RFID tags placed on a product and a fixed or mobile RFID reader that can send and receive information.

RFID has multiple applications in retail environments. From keeping accurate stock levels and ensuring product availability across physical and digital storefronts, to enabling self-checkout and combating theft, RFID gives retailers improved visibility over their operations.

One area where RFID excels is tracking inventory. This can happen in the warehouse or in the store. An example of the latter is when staff use RFID technology to service customers quickly and easily.

Imagine shopping for an article of clothing in a specific size and color. Rather than searching aisle to aisle and digging through racks of clothing, most people ask staff for help instead. With RFID in place, employees know exactly where to look, cutting down wait times significantly.

Let’s not forget that helpful and fast service leads to improved customer satisfaction and retention, so any technology that aids these goals can make a difference. It’s one reason why an Accenture study on RFID in retail showed a 93% adoption rate in North America; its return on investment, practicality, and usefulness are gamechangers for retailers looking to modernize their operations.

RFID gives businesses the data to make more informed decisions. And when combined with AI-driven analytics that process all this information, RFID technology delivers the real-time, up-to-date insights that drive positive outcomes — for businesses, employees, and customers.

Augmented reality: A new way to test merchandise

In an age where convenience, comparison shopping, and digital tools sway purchasing decisions, physical retail is constantly experimenting with ways to differentiate itself. The latest frontier is augmented reality (AR).

AR technology introduces new ways for customers to try products, allowing shoppers to visualize how a product may fit into their lives. It’s a try-before-you-buy approach, but it’s also interactive and immersive, two key ingredients for generations of people who stare at their smart devices all day.

One common and practical example is furniture shopping. Prior to AR, shoppers had to show up at the store armed with room dimensions and layout schematics in mind.

But with today’s smartphones and tablets, now all you need is an app; simply take a picture of your room and have the item superimposed within it. Retailers who can’t offer their customers these types of experiences will lose out to those who can.

The effect on revenue doesn’t end there either. According to the National Retail Federation, retailers lost $743 billion in sales from returned merchandise in 2023, accounting for 14.5 percent of total U.S. retail sales that year. Put another way, retailers must stomach $145 million in returns for every $1 billion in sales.

Transforming the business of returns has the potential to provide retailers with a massive boost to their bottom line. So just imagine what could happen if customers could test products virtually before they buy with AR; it’s not a stretch to believe returns would also go down, putting money lost from sky-high return rates back into retailers’ pockets.

Fully autonomous retail floor cleaning

The pandemic lockdowns devastated physical retail locations. And when the doors finally opened again, consumer expectations had shifted dramatically.

Take curbside pick-up and last-mile delivery. The pandemic made both services staples, with most retailers offering them for free to continue operating during lockdowns. However, they became so popular that removing them once lockdowns ended was off the table.

But a more important and eternally top-of-mind holdover from the pandemic years revolves around something less glamorous but infinitely more critical: cleanliness.

Indeed, customers demand clean and safe spaces while they shop. No number of amenities will distract a shopper from a dirty, unclean environment. So, if their first steps through an establishment land them in a mess, it will taint all interactions with a brand’s products and services thereafter.

The trouble is, scrubbing floors is a labor-intensive task — a problem exacerbated under current labor conditions. In fact, the most recent data shows 511,000 retail jobs remain unfilled. But the challenges don’t end there.

Scrubbing floors manually is also becoming increasingly expensive, with the median wage for low and medium-skilled workers growing by 5.5% and 5.0%, respectively. Factor in historically high turnover in the custodial professions and keeping a store clean is a resource-intensive chore nowadays.

That’s where floor cleaning robots have arrived to rescue the day, with their improved efficiency, immediate savings, and steady availability an appetizer of what retailers can expect. But only a select few have the right mix of features and capabilities to succeed in retail environments.

Tight spaces, heavy foot traffic, and constantly changing floor layouts are obstacles any fully autonomous commercial floor scrubber must conquer to succeed. As a result, forward-thinking retailers are turning to purpose-built, retailed-focused autonomous cleaning robots to improve cleanliness, lower costs, and redirect staff to service their customers instead of their floors.

What’s more, autonomous floor scrubbers amplify a store's reputation, with some including modern, futuristic designs that elevate their surroundings. That they can run continuously around the clock puts them front and center, publicly demonstrating to onlookers that health and safety are top priorities.

And thanks to AI, automation, and user-friendly software forming the pillars of these modern tools, retail floor cleaning robots provide the same convenience, return on investment, and efficiency improvements that underpin other successful digital retail evolutions thus far.

Make your AI-powered cleaning transformation simple with Kas 

Don’t let the availability and affordability of labor prevent your retail location from looking its best. A clean store is an inviting store, and Avidbots’ solutions make it easier and more affordable than it’s ever been.

From warehouse to store, automating your cleaning process frees up staff to enhance, enrich, and expand your customer’s shopping experience. This can mean faster pick-and-pack times in the warehouse or prompt, readily available in-store help.

Put another way, the human and financial capital that would otherwise go toward hours of manual floor scrubbing is now redirected to the areas of your retail operation that help keep customers coming back for more. 

Indeed, Avidbots’ latest innovation, Kas, is tailor-made for the unique conditions of dynamic retail spaces, with safety and performance features that raise the bar on what cleaning equipment can - and should — do. And with Neo 2W offering the same advantages on the warehousing and logistics side, Avidbots’ cleaning robots offer a unified solution at all levels of your retail operations. 

Whether you’re looking to expand your brand’s automation journey to also include cleaning, or you’d like to optimize your cleaning process by replacing your manual machines, we’re ready to help.