The ongoing battle between online retailers and the high street is well documented, but smart retail promises to help redress the balance and allow physical stores to better compete and harness their advantages.
Nearly all of the UK’s major supermarkets offer some form of home delivery and have ventured into markets beyond food.
But grocery shopping is something people do more frequently than buying a book on Amazon and many still prefer to pick their items from the aisles themselves. This gives food retailers a degree of insulation from the shift to online but doesn’t mean they are immune.
All must compete with the convenience of shopping on mobile or the web, offer the same features such as recommendations, and be able to collect similar amounts of data to online rivals. Store loyalty cards have been doing this for some time, but the information collected is less rich, less complete.
Waitrose hopes its new Quick Check smartphone application will be able to achieve all three of these tasks. Like Tesco, Sainsbury’s and others, Waitrose has introduced self-scanning systems in its larger stores.
Customers select a barcode-scanning handset from a rack and scan items as they progress round the supermarket. When shopping is complete, they simply present the handset to a machine and pay for their goods.
This makes payment much faster, negates the need to pack and repack items and aside from the occasional random security check, is a seamless process.
Now Waitrose is going one step further with its new app. Customers download the software on their smartphone and use the device’s camera to scan items. The application can than push items to customers, offer recipes and menus, or deliver special offers.
It can learn what users buy so recommendations are improved and discourage food waste by reminding users of what they’ve bought recently. The added processing power of Android allows for videos and richer content.
The application is designed to feel just like the same as the store device and could also allow Quick Check to be rolled out at ‘Little Waitrose’ convenience stores where installing racks are not practical. Indeed, in these locations where floor space is at a premium, the application could save time, space and make them even more convenient.
“The relationship has been around for a long time but they are one of the most innovative companies we work with as they have an innovation team,” Mark Thomson, EMEA retail director at Zebra Technologies which has worked on the system, told Silicon.
He said Waitrose was on the fourth or fifth generation of the technology now and actually partnered with Motorola Solutions on some projects. Zebra bought Motorola Solution’s enterprise division in 2014.
This gives Waitrose data it can act on in real time, just like an online retailer, driving sales and even improving the efficiency of a store. When combined with free Wi-Fi and beacons, retailers can map a customer’s journey around the store to see where items should be placed, demographic information and even weather data.
“Most [loyalty card programmes] are static in that they wait for you to collect the items and then the payment process,” Thomson explains. “All that tells the retailer is the day, time and what items you’ve bought.
“Self-scanning adds when you started, duration, the direction of the store because they can see the order.”
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