66% of organizations use at least one emerging technology, including AI, VR, AR, and IoT, according to a recent survey. The same survey reports that those that use these technologies are noticing improved customer experience performance and higher customer satisfaction.
But what do these technologies look like in real life? And what retail innovations can we expect to see today as a result?
We interviewed 5 retail innovation leaders at NRF 2020‘s Innovation Lab, and they showed us how they’re using emerging tech to change customer experience in 2020 and beyond.
Drones for inventory management
The subject of inventory management may not evoke fun and excitement – at least not in the traditional sense. But add a drone, and you not only have a crowd-pleaser, you have a solution that makes sound business sense. Enter Gather AI, a Pittsburgh-based organization that boasts “The world’s first software-only inventory management platform for modern warehouses.”
In an interview with SmarterCX, Sankalp Arora, chief robotics engineer and co-founder at Gather AI, showed us how the technology works, and explained that drones – used for taking inventory – use computer vision to fly themselves, use cameras for localization, can detect and read barcodes, and can even take the temperature of inventory to monitor if stock has gone bad.
“On average, this takes around 4.4 seconds per pallet location. [The drones] are 3 to 8 times faster than doing manual inventory,” Sankalp said. “We have reduced inventory monitoring time from 2 months for the cycle count to a week using one of these drones, or in some cases has gone from 8 hours to do inventory monitoring using 8 people, to just 5 of these drones to do it in 15 minutes.”
Indoor farming with robots and AI
You’ve heard of the farm to table movement, and like 23% of other smartphone users, you’ve probably used technology to have food delivered to your door. Say hello to the next iteration of locally-sourced food: indoor farming. 80 Acres Farms, an Ohio-based organization, considers itself different from your typical farm.
The website states, “We don’t have tractors, silos, or even soil here. Instead, we grow everything indoors—using robots and artificial intelligence to do the heavy lifting, while the humans focus on growing the freshest food possible.”
We spoke with Mike Zelkind, CEO and co-founder of 80 Acres Farms, who explained that the company locates farms right next to their customers’ distribution centers, which allows the food to be grown and delivered to customers within a day – and not only is it convenient, it’s pesticide free, and can reduce the use of plastics, water, and waste within the process. Not to mention, it results in a high-quality product, says Mike.
“Using technology, we enable agriculture to produce in climates that are otherwise not susceptible to this kind of growth. We can grow product in Ohio. We can grow it in Norway. We can grow it anywhere in the world,” said Mike. “It does use AI and a lot of other tools to understand how plants grow, and to create a perfect environment for that plant to grow.”
Motivational gaming for your staff
Employee experience is a hot topic in 2020, with execs like Walmart’s CEO taking on initiatives that focus on retaining front-line staff. So it should come as no surprise that tech solutions are emerging to engage and motivate the modern employee.
Meet Arcade, a Dallas-based software company that creates gamification tools to incentivize engagement, motivation, and fun in the workplace. We spoke with Alison Zook, head of customer success at Arcade, who explained how the platform works, and it’s goal of unifying retail store chains into one platform for communication and daily incentives, allowing employees across the organization to engage in friendly competition and earn points and prizes – all by providing a better customer experience.
“Everybody has had that experience as a customer where they walk in, and an employee is just literally ready to be off their shift. With Arcade, the whole idea here is that we want to push employees to be more engaged,” said Alison.
Artificial intelligence for the grocery store shelf
In shelf-based environments, employees spend an average of 20 hours per week taking stock counts, according to a recent study. Yet in 2020, there’s got to be a better way – and Snap2Insight, a Portland-based company, is using AI to accomplish just that.
Snap2Insight’s website boasts “turnkey solutions that provide real ‘shelf truth’ leveraging deep machine learning and next generation image recognition technology.”
So, how does it work? We spoke with Praveen Gopalakrishnan, co-founder and CEO of Snap2Insight, who explained that the solution uses AI image recognition technology that converts photos of shelves and items on the shelves into actionable alerts, letting retailers know when items are out of stock, or out of place, for example. Pictures can even be sourced from employees’ smartphones.
“What we have seen by talking to retailers and brands is that the store and shelf is the one place that they don’t have data on. They have a good supply chain, but once it gets in the store, they don’t know what’s happening on the shelf,” Praveen said. “The big question that we help answer is, how do you win at the shelf?”
Customer feedback via text
Add Net Promoter Score (NPS), customer effort score (CES), and customer satisfaction score (CSAT) to your list of popular buzzwords in 2020. While it’s great that more and more brands realize the importance of customer feedback to the customer experience, are they limited to the typical boring survey?
Simon Foster, CEO and founder of Chatter, says no. Chatter Research, a Mountainview, California-based company, boasts an AI-powered customer feedback solution that allows customers to provide feedback and insight via text message.
We spoke with Simon, who explained to us that with Chatter, brands can solicit feedback via signage in stores, and purchasers or non-purchasers can use their smartphones to interact with the sign, which pops up a text message on the consumer’s smartphone, and prompts them with feedback questions.
“How do you measure customer experience? The answer in retail has been, when someone makes a purchase, we hand them a paper receipt and ask them to complete an online survey. Why does it have to be a boring survey?” Simon said. “Why can’t it be a lively conversation with the voice of the brand, the way a consumer prefers: using text message? That’s what we do today in stores across the US.”
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