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Zebra SmartSight - Retail Robot

Retail trends for 2020 as seen through the lens of NRF 2020 Vision. What it will take for retailers to succeed

We’re only two weeks into the anticipated 2020 and the rush for new ideas in the retail sector has already begun. The U.S. is paving the way, yet again, with the NRF 2020 Vision, National Retail Federations’ annual conference in New York City.

As expected, artificial intelligence augmented reality and other robotics innovations dedicated to the retail sector have dominated the event and news headlines. But amid that, there’s something more interesting going on: a growing focus on retailers’ employee experience, equalizing the customer journey.

Our colleagues, Daniel Boangiu and Gabriel Georgescu, captured a few of the big ideas from this year’s NRF 2020 Vision that are most likely to change retail businesses all over the world.

We have entered a “technology intense era” for retailers

In it’s opening note for the NRF 2020 Vision show, Microsoft’s CEO, Satya Nadella underlined once again the importance of technology adoption in the retail sector.

“Every retailer will need to build their own tech intensity,” says Nadella, who’s stressing on how important it is for each retailer to find their own way when it comes to the digitization of stores and supply chains.

There’s plenty of options out there, for retailers of all sizes.

The buzz this year was Zebra’s new SmartSight, a robot that can scan shelves and report stock availability back to human associates. The robot uses Zebra’s EMA50 mobile automation technology, resulting in a combination of computer vision, machine learning, and workflow automation which is said to increase available inventory by 95%.

From the human workers’ point of view, it will free up to 65 hours of manual inventory per week. This time can be instead invested by employees in the direct connection to shoppers, an aspect which has gained more ground in the past years, especially for physical stores.

“Leveraging Zebra’s deep retail experience and market leadership over the last 50 years, SmartSight provides brick and mortar retailers a performance edge by autonomously prescribing corrective actions to associates based on what is happening at the shelf while also freeing up more of their time to focus on providing the best service to shoppers,” said Joe White, Senior Vice President and General Manager of Enterprise Mobile Computing, Zebra Technologies.

In the US only, 10,000 SmartSight robots will start operating in Office Depot stores, according to Zebra’s announcement. The cooperation between the two companies is much bigger though.

Office Depot has also adopted Zebra’s AR technology designed for warehouse management. The head-mounted display can make life a lot easier for mobile workers, as well as for companies struggling with employee onboarding and warehouse operations optimization.

Retailers are giving more power and intelligence to their employees

Staying on the same note, NRF 2020 was more than usual about people, customers and employees alike. In the U.S., Walmart is the biggest employer, with 2.2 million workers, and this is also a reality on the Romanian market, with Profi and Kaufland taking the lead in recent employment rankings.

With major employee retention and training problems, retailers are forced to reconsider their position. It’s not all about the pay, it’s also about a better job. Or, as John Furner, Walmart’s new CEO said in its NRF 2020 session, entitled “Why Retail Jobs Can Be Good Jobs”, it’s “a matter of giving the people the path and the ability to learn, train and develop”.

Simply put, for retailers to grow, they need to foster their human assets too. The payment is still a decisive factor, but it won’t solve retention. And that’s where technology can make a difference.

“The jobs are changing. I was in a Walmart store a few weeks ago that has this wonderful store pickup business in grocery click-and-collect. There are over 60 people in that department. Five years ago, that wasn’t a job that existed”, Furner added.

Innovations like Zebra’s smart glasses, self-checkout or queue busting are meant to assist the retail sector employees to do their jobs better, faster and with more satisfaction.

The software options for supermarkets have also evolved immensely, with mobility and interaction in focus. See for example NCR, who’s been named leading POS (point-of-sale) software provider in the world in the RBR Global POS Software 2019 study. Also present in the retailers Big Show in New York, was NCR’s Senior Vice President and General Manager Global Retail, David Wilkinson.

“We are in a new era for retail technology and we have to look at a new cost curve for retailers. We have to change the old paradigm and become API-first, use community-sourced software, use common tools, and leverage the cloud,” said Wilkinson.

Their newest solution, NCR R10 Enterprise, is a next-generation retail store architecture that supports a retailers’ entire enterprise connecting to customers through multiple touch-points. These include POS stations, self-checkout, self-scanning, information, and other interaction kiosks, mobile commerce and e-commerce, thus taking the shopper experience and satisfaction to a whole new level.

Omni-channel is key to surviving the e-commerce revolution

The online shopping was more than once said to kill the physical stores. We’re still waiting for it to happen and chances are – if things are done right – it never will.

The solution is omnichannel. NRF Chairman Christopher Baldwin addresses this issue at NRF 2020: “Retailers are taking the lead in personalization, new technologies that will give the consumer even more power”.

More than 60% of consumers say retail innovation has improved their shopping experience, and 80% for online shoppers think so”, Baldwin said, underlining the fact that shoppers see and appreciate the retailers’ efforts.

The store aisles are the best place to learn about consumers’ behavior. A brand new shopping experience, using high-tech and well-trained employees can revive the retail business.

A way to do that is the electronic labels, yet another NRF 2020 star after SES-imagotag, the global leader in Electronic Shelf Labels (ESLs) and digital solutions for physical retail, announced it will do the biggest rollout of ESLs in all stores for a top US retailer.

The Red Dot awarded VUSION aims at resolving retailers’ efficiency problems, like pricing automation and accuracy, product geolocation and automatic stockout detection. The real benefits are seen in the customer experience.

Its unique technology allows shoppers to get connected to products on shelves in a new way, as well as collect more information directly in-store. And with its ability to combine the digital experience with mobile payment systems, the circle in the customer journey is complete.

There are other indicators that omnichannel is worth the investment. According to Adobe’s holiday shopping report, “BOPIS” (Buy online, pick up in store), grew 35 percent year over year, and the business model also knows variations.

Take Kohl’s for example. The American department store retail chain partnered with Amazon in an innovative service: buy online, return in store. While the results after launch were less than anticipated, the idea behind it was quite solid, if we judge by Amazon’s results – 2019 was their best holiday season ever.

The beauty of it all in this continuously struggling sector is that it’s dynamics embrace the change. Customers want more or everything, and they are forcing retailers to adapt. On the way, great experiences can be created by those who dare to innovate and step outside the drawn lines.

Inspired by these insights? Add a comment, ask a question or simply share these thoughts in social media to help all those interested to find more about what’s new in the retail area in 2020.

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