Amazon Fresh is newly launched in the UK but in other parts of the world, retail that incorporates digital technology has been around for years.
Driven by a range of customer needs, we’ll highlight some of the concepts fighting for shelf space in the packed retail landscape by using digital to go above and beyond for their customers.
There’s no question that China leads the world in digitally enabled retail.
BingoBox is an Amazon Go competitor, offering cashier-less convenience stores enhanced with AI. Customers enter the store by scanning a QR code at the door.
There are already 300 BingoBox stores with international expansion planned. Stores feature 24-hour support via a video call system.
7Fresh by JD.com
JD.com (a major shareholder of whom is Walmart!) has launched pilots of a number of unmanned convenience stores, which range from full cashier-less experiences with facial recognition payment, down to smaller scale, piecemeal smart AI features that can be added to pre-existing stores.
The company’s main project in smart retail has been 7Fresh, and there are now over 20 7Fresh supermarkets across China. The stores take advantage of “big data analytics” to match product range to the customers’ desires.
So-called “Magic Mirrors” are also used to automatically display product information, such as key nutritional and providence details.
Hema by Alibaba
There are currently over 220 Hema smart retail stores across 23 Chinese cities with hundreds more planned for launch in the coming years.
As standard, these stores come fully integrated with mobile payment technologies like Alipay, and the customer experience is enhanced through tailored recommendations and more.
The stores are also backed by a supply chain that is increasingly owned by Alibaba.
Hema Villages are popping up to satisfy the demand for the supermarkets. The farms in these villages are “smart farms”, featuring a new “grow on demand” model where farmers get predictable analytics as to the requirements of particular crops, minimising waste and increasing profit.
Lifvs is a Stockholm-based start-up that launched in 201 with the aim of bringing retail stores back to rural locations, where shops had closed down because they had struggled to remain profitable, due to the large overheads of traditional retail.
Lifvs circumvents these problems by operating a staff-less, 24/7-access, mini-supermarket model.
Each shop is a small red wooden container, roughly the same size as a large mobile home, stocking all the usual Swedish essentials, such as fresh fruit and veg, Swedish meatballs, crisp breads and wafer bars.
The catch is that there are no checkouts or staff.
Customers are able to open the door with a specific app, which works in conjunction with BankID, a secure national identification app operated by Sweden’s banks. Then, you can scan barcodes using your phone, and the bill is charged automatically to a pre-registered bank card.
It’s a simple solution that provides a convenient, local solution for people who would otherwise be isolated.
20 stores are now in operation across Sweden in rural locations since last March.
IRL by Walmart
IRL is Walmart’s under-the-radar AI enabled store in New York. It offers customers a vision of a 2025 connected store, and provides helpful data for analysis and review by Walmart corporation.
According to Walmart, the store is “a unique real-world shopping environment designed to explore the possibilities artificial intelligence can contribute to the store experience.”
In the store, technology sits under the hood, but never intrudes on a customer’s regular shopping experience.
Customers don’t need to use their phones or digital wallets in order to enter the store, which means that people with a strong aversion to technology won’t be put off.
According to a report in Forbes by the reporter who was guided round the store, the environment is essentially covered in hundreds of cameras and sensors, connected by “enough cabling to scale Mt. Everest five times”, as well as hundreds of servers with enough processing power to download three years’ worth of music each second.
The cameras are used for a number of key reasons, the first being automated product quality assurance, i.e. stock checking and shelf monitoring. The benefit of this is that Walmart can ensure, for example, that its customers see only the finest, freshest looking meat at its meat wall. Keeping an eye on fresh produce also means that price reductions can be made proactively.
The same technology also makes it easy to have fully stocked shelves all the time, and for more accurate audits.
Finally, it enables retail innovation. A great example of this is that the operations team noticed that when the bottom row of produce was sold, older produce was not being pulled down to replace it, meaning that lots of old produce was going to waste. This led to innovation in shelving, with the creation of slanted shelves that use gravity to push older stock to the front of the pile.