Category Archives: Retail

Delivery robots are poised to invade our cities, but are we ready for them?


Photo credit: FedEx

John R. Quain

John R. Quain, Contributor to Digital Trends @jqontech Posted on 04.14.19 – 1:00AM PST

 

Gaggles of delivery R2D2’s scurrying down suburban streets? It sounds like a technological nightmare worse than an e-scooter infestation. But the concept of robot messengers got a major boost recently when FedEx announced plans to start testing such a service this summer, and for smart cities, it may not be such a crazy idea after all.

There are already several pilot robo-delivery projects running in the U.S.

Nuro, for example, recently announced it’s moving on from Arizona and expanding its delivery partnership with grocery giant Kroger to four Houston zip codes. Nuro’s vehicle is more of autonomous compact car than a rolling robot, but so far people seem happy to pay the roughly $6 for the self-driving silver surfer (probably because they don’t have to tip the car).

Nuro Delivery Robot
Nuro

The 7,000-pound gorilla in retail, Amazon, is reportedly testing a sidewalk-crawling delivery bot in Seattle. The project looks like a more practical service for suburbs — especially compared to drones, which are restricted or outright banned in many urban areas.

Most recently, FedEx has announced that it plans to begin testing its own autonomous delivery robot in Memphis, Tennessee. And while there are other delivery bot tests underway in addition to the ones mentioned, the entrance by the preeminent delivery service in the U.S. into the self-driving space represents something of a milestone.

Hitting the streets sidewalks

FedEx isn’t talking about autonomous vans and trucks — at least not yet. And the challenges facing even mainly on-the-sidewalk robots are legion. Weather, uneven terrain, traffic, poor cellular network coverage, and humans behaving badly are just a few of the headaches facing programmers. However, FedEx’s partners and its own delivery infrastructure imply that it may be uniquely positioned to overcome those obstacles.


The delivery bots, for example, are designed in partnership with Dean Kamen’s DEKA Development & Research Corp. Kamen is best known for developing the Segway and the iBot Personal Mobility Device, a wheelchair that can climb stairs. The latter demonstrates that DEKA’s engineering skills will probably be able to help FedEx surmount some of the navigation issues for door-to-door delivery. Indeed, the fully electric FedEx SameDay Bot is based on the iBot, with some additional technology that makes it autonomous, including lidar, radar, and video cameras to assist in navigation.

According to Kamen, the SameDay bot can run at about 10 miles per hour, “which won’t disturb pedestrians.” Kamen made the remarks during a presentation to announce the new partnership. The inventor said the SameDay Bot’s speed limiter means it won’t cause the kinds of problems associated with cyclists and messengers who hop onto sidewalks — but it will still be able to handle round trips of up to eight miles relatively quickly.

The road ahead

FedEx plans to work with retailers including AutoZone, Lowe’s, Pizza Hut, Target, Walgreens, and Walmart to perform, as its robot’s name implies, same-day door-to-door deliveries. Customers can open the bot using a smartphone app, or have it opened by a remote operator. Those operators will also control the bots should the machines encounter situations they don’t recognize.

robot delivery dog ces 2019 continental pp cube robodogs
Continental’s delivery robot concept

“It’s a way they could take on Amazon,” Gary Goralnick, a shopping center developer, told Digital Trends regarding self-driving technology. Goralnick said integrating online ordering and same-day delivery, for example, has helped brick and mortar retailers turn the corner and compete against Internet-only outlets.

Still, others note that such self-driving solutions beg for an infrastructure solution.

“You have to redesign the city before you layer in the technology,” Duncan Davidson, a technology investor with Bullpen Capital, told Digital Trends. Davidson pointed to examples such as e-scooters causing problems in Los Angeles and Uber cars causing additional congestion in New York City as ways in which technology can wreak havoc in cities — unless it’s supported by the right infrastructure changes.

None of these robo-delivery services will work unless consumers embrace the concept

Autonomous cars and delivery vehicles, for example, may need their own dedicated lanes. Making such changes could improve safety and help reduce traffic. And there are many ways in which same-day delivery in underserved areas could help home-bound individuals who suffer from chronic illnesses or other restrictions that prevent them from getting outside.

Indeed, Hyundai has a program called Elevate to develop an autonomous vehicle that can navigate rough terrain and even climb stairs to reach customers. And Dean Kamen’s iBot was originally designed to help people such as disabled veterans get around on their own. (The partnership with FedEx should help make the iBots more affordable for those who need them, according to Kamen.)

Ultimately, none of these robo-delivery services will work unless consumers embrace the concept. As long as they steer clear of scary robots, like Boston Dynamics’ headless Spot Mini, and focus on friendly delivery devices that look like R2D2, it may just work out.

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Digital-Native Retailers Are Giving Physical Stores a Radical Makeover


Photograph by Thomas Barwick

By Flavio Palaci, Ramy Sedra, and Anand Rao all from PwC  January 18, 2019

Online brands are opening brick-and-mortar shops, using technology and data-driven customer insights to transform the in-store experience.

 

On Black Friday in 2018, online spending in the U.S. leapt 24 percent from the previous year. By contrast, in-store sales fell by 7 percent and footfall was down 9 percent. These numbers might give the impression that brick-and-mortar stores are losing relevance with consumers, but several successful online-only retailers are actually opening physical shops — and traditional brands can learn from them by looking at why and how they’re doing it.

There are many reasons for online-first retailers to add an offline presence. For one thing, physical retail still accounts for about 85 percent of global business-to-consumer commerce. And although digital retail is growing, so is in-store retail. PwC’s 2019 Global Consumer Insights Study — to be released soon — shows that 24 percent of consumers regularly used mobile to shop in 2018, compared with 11 percent in 2014, and 49 percent regularly shopped in a physical store in 2018, versus 36 percent in 2014. Stores allow consumers to experience and engage with a brand, its products, and its culture. Buying in a store is also sometimes faster and more convenient than online shopping. And new technologies enable retailers to gather insights from in-store video and audio data in ways that have never before been possible. Finally, physical stores provide online retailers with local distribution centers for their products.

Digital natives apply their pioneering spirit to the physical world, using their inherent data-led knowledge of customer behavior and their comfort with technology to rethink and remake the experience shoppers have in their stores. And they’re showing the way forward for some of the savviest older retailers and brands. Here are some of the lessons bricks-first retailers are picking up from their digital-first peers.

Create a frictionless store. Online retailers have to focus on user experience and customer journeys to succeed. Shoppers are easily distracted from an online purchase by the ping of an arriving email or a flurry of social media likes. Each click away from the page could cause them to ditch their carts, so e-commerce strives to be as frictionless and engaging as possible.

And now, some online retailers are applying the same thinking to physical stores. Amazon Go grocery stores, for example, have resolved a major pain point: the checkout. Instead of paying traditionally, customers scan their Amazon Go app as they enter, their purchases are recorded by sensors throughout the store that are supported by artificial intelligence (AI) and radio-frequency identification (RFID), and their accounts are automatically charged when they leave.

Amazon is considering placing Go stores in the lobbies of office buildings and in airports. This fits with a growing trend for “microtrip” shopping, or short trips that take less than five minutes. According to PwC’s study, one-quarter of consumers make trips like these once or more per day.

Another point of friction for customers is not knowing whether the items they need will be in stock at a physical store. Canadian online fashion retailer Ssense has solved this problem. Its shoppers can browse 20,000 products online, and the ones they’d like to try on are then shipped from warehouse to store within an hour.

Use data to add a personal touch. Digital-native retailers are data-centric, and as a result have been able to disrupt brick-and-mortar shopping by being better at predicting customer needs and wants. In some cases, their insights reveal that customers want to see and use products in real life.

Online mattress retailer Casper announced last summer that it would open 200 stores across the U.S., after finding that sales grew more quickly in areas where it had operated temporary stores. A physical presence in a busy location can be a powerful marketing tool, too. Casper CEO Philip Krim told the Wall Street Journal the company’s stores make the brand visible, which is helpful because acquiring customers online has become more competitive and expensive.

Traditional retailers are also using data to get to know their customers better. Nike, for example, has spent a decade building its NikePlus membership program. It now has data not only on its members’ tastes in clothes and shoes but also on their exercise habits. It uses that data to curate stock at its Nike Live concept store in Los Angeles, and to offer personalized advice to ensure members have the best kit for their fitness goals.

The lessons from the Nike Live store have been used at the company’s New York flagship, where the “Speed Shop” department stocks merchandise based on online sales in the store’s postal code. And getting back to the frictionless experiences mentioned earlier, customers can also reserve the shoes they want using the Nike app and then collect them from an in-store locker, opened by the same app. They can pay for the merchandise in the app, too.

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“Data and technology are the connective tissue underlying the creation of rich, informative in-store experiences.”

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Stores are also using data on customers’ physical locations to enhance experiences. For instance, Nordstrom has experimented with a customer-tracking app that notifies staff as each person arrives, arming the sales team in advance with information about that shopper’s buying habits. For some people, this is delightful and convenient, but for others it’s intrusive and unwelcome, so data analytics is helping companies determine which customers are which, too. Of course, for these location- and habit-tracking features to work, people will have to trust retailers with their personal information — and that will be a big hurdle to overcome.

Make shopping fun. Personalization can help turn offline retail into a rich experience that consumers will seek out. And technology can enable even more ways to make shopping entertaining.

For example, French beauty brand Sephora is using augmented reality to allow customers to test makeup virtually. London fashion store Missguided’s expansion offline involved creating a flagship store inspired by a TV studio, with huge screens that stream customer-generated social media content.

The New York City location of fashion retailer Rebecca Minkoff has interactive mirrors in the dressing rooms so customers can order a different color or size with a few taps. They can also customize the lighting so it matches the environment in which they will wear the outfit.

Track different things better. Retailers have traditionally measured success by sales per square foot, and based on that formula, numerous chains have closed branches because of diminishing results. But now that people no longer have to rely on stores as the sole way to access products, this gauge of productivity looks dated.

Last year, Adobe Labs showed off new technology for tracking shoppers through a store in real time, drawing information from in-store beacons, smart shopping carts, Internet of Things sensors, and a mobile app. This technology would allow retailers to direct offers to customers about certain products even as they’re looking at them.

As these various examples show, data and technology are the connective tissue underlying the creation of rich, informative in-store experiences. Digital natives already know the value of understanding and using these tools, and it’s time for brick-and-mortar retailers to catch up. Using already-available digital approaches to capture the rich stream of information on consumers’ in-store and online behavior will turn traditional companies into data-driven organizations with an obsessive customer focus.

 

Author Profiles:

Flavio Palaci is PwC’s global advisory data and analytics leader. Based in Sydney, he is a partner with PwC Australia.

Ramy Sedra is PwC Canada’s data and analytics consulting leader. Based in Montreal, he is a partner with PwC Canada.

Anand Rao is PwC’s global and U.S. artificial intelligence leader and U.S. data and analytics leader. Based in Boston, he is a principal with PwC US.

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Related Stories

5G will impact these 10 industries the most (Video)

Video

By Alison DeNisco Rayome, Senior Editor for TechRepublic on March 20, 2019, 6:36 AM PST

Major 5G network deployments are expected by 2020, and the technology will create opportunities across many industries, according to CB Insights.

Highly-anticipated major 5G networks are expected to be deployed by 2020, and will transform a number of industries due to the technology’s ability to provide wider network coverage, more stable internet connections, and faster data transfer speeds, according to a recent report from CB Insights.

5G will also enable the rise in the number of Internet of Things (IoT) devices, along with the amount of data they generate, the report noted.

While 5G sets the stage for new opportunities across many fields, it also will bring disruption to those industries, the report said.

CB Insights identified the 20 industries that 5G will impact the most. Here are the top 10:

1. Manufacturing

5G is poised to help manufacturing production operations become more flexible and efficient, while also improving safety and lowering maintenance costs.

2. Energy and utilities

Critical infrastructure like energy and utilities will benefit from 5G technologies, which could create more innovative solutions in energy production, transmission, distribution, and usage, as well as the next wave of smart grid features and efficiency.

3. Agriculture

Farmers worldwide are using IoT technology to optimize agricultural processes including water management, fertigation, livestock safety, and crop monitoring, the report noted. 5G could enable real-time data collection, allowing farmers to monitor, track, and automate agricultural systems to increase profitability, efficiency, and safety.

4. Retail

More than 100 million Americans made a purchase on their smartphone in 2018, the report noted, and the move to mobile shopping is largely due to the rise of 4G/LTE. The faster speeds 5G will bring will enable new retail experiences like virtual reality (VR) dressing rooms.

5. Financial services

5G will accelerated the digitization of financial institutions, including from internal operations to customer service, the report said. Increased security and speed will allow users to increasingly make transactions instantly on their devices, and make remote tellers a possibility.

6. Media and entertainment

5G will bring about new opportunities in mobile media, mobile advertising, home broadband, and TV, as well as interactive technologies like VR and augmented reality (AR).

7. Healthcare

In the healthcare industry, 5G could increase efficiencies and revenue, helping health systems create faster, more efficient networks to keep up with the large amounts of data involved. The technology could also enable the use of remote monitoring devices to improve health outcomes.

8. Transportation

Transportation systems ranging from public buses to private logistic fleets will gain increased visibility and control thanks to 5G, the report said. 5G will allow improved vehicle-to-vehicle communications, enabling more self-driving car testing. These networks will also help cities gain access to more data around their transportation systems.

9. AR/VR

The future of AR and VR depends on reliable 5G networks, according to the report. These technologies require a less expensive, wider network with lower latency to continue developing and reaching widespread adoption, as they require massive amounts of data processing.

10. Insurance

5G will help insurance agents make more effective decisions, as they will have access to more accurate data, the report said.

You can see the full report here.

For more 5G coverage, check out this TechRepublic/ZDNet special feature: How 5G will transform business.

Microsoft and Kroger are taking on Amazon with a futuristic grocery store pilot

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella smiles during the question and answer portion of the Microsoft Annual Shareholders Meeting in Bellevue, Wash., on Nov. 28, 2018.
Stephen Brashear | Getty Images

Published Mon, Jan 7 2019 • 11:04 AM EST
By Sara Salinas
@sarasalinas

Key Points
  • The two outfitted Kroger locations, in Monroe, Ohio and Redmond, Wash., will feature digital shelving displays with real-time price updates and product information.
  • The displays will also feature digital advertisements personalized to the individual shopper.
  • The pilot is reminiscent of Amazon’s new age shopping software.

Microsoft and Kroger are taking on Amazon’s cashierless stores with their own futuristic grocery store pilot.

The move deepens the partnership between the two companies, which is partly a response to Amazon’s move into grocery stories with its 2017 acquisition of Whole Foods. As Amazon’s retail business pushes into more industries, Amazon Web Services is starting to experience a backlash. Kroger is joining the likes of Wal-Mart and Target in finding other vendors to handle their massive workloads for their digital and e-commerce offerings.

The two outfitted Kroger locations, in Monroe, Ohio and Redmond, Wash., will feature digital shelving displays with real-time price updates and product information, as well as digital advertisements personalized to each shopper.

Video analytics systems will alert store associates to low inventories. Location-specific data will be stored and processed on Microsoft’s Azure cloud infrastructure.

Microsoft and Kroger will jointly market the technology to other retailers, the companies said.

“Our partnership brings together Kroger’s world-class expertise in the grocery industry with the power of Azure and Azure AI,” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said in a statement. “Together, we will redefine the shopping experience for millions of customers at both Kroger and other retailers around the world, setting a new standard for innovation in the industry.”

The pilot is reminiscent of Amazon’s new age Amazon Go pilot, which detects the items a shopper has picked up and scans them automatically as the shopper leaves, eliminating the need for traditional cashiers. Amazon is reportedly planning a broad expansion of Go, including in Whole Foods stores, putting pressure on traditional grocers to offer similarly innovative shopping experiences.

WATCH: Amazon’s cashier-free store opens to the public

When Digital Transformation Does Not Happen: Big Box Retailers That Closed Their Doors In 2018


DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images Getty

Jan 22, 2019  02:42pm

By Blake Morgan, Contributor – CMO Network (Forbes), Customer Experience Futurist, Author, Keynote Speaker

 

When it comes to retail, the only constant is change. Today news broke that Starbucks will be trying delivery to customers, as the in-store experience has lost some traffic. As you will find out below, not everything that Starbucks touches turns to gold, such as Teavana. Those who compete on customer experience today are doing so by competing on logistics. A digital transformation that includes logistics and supply chain prove to be the power of companies that remain relevant to customers. Target is an example of a company that struggled to get a hold on the digital aspect of its business, and outsourced its digital side and website to Amazon from 2003 – 2011. They saw digital as ancillary but eventually woke up. They focused on supply chain combining digital and in-store inventories enabling them to get customer’s their orders faster. Target became a company that used technology to improve its supply chain and offer curbside pick-up for customers. Not to mention the success of its many Target-only brands. Target has triumphed seeing a twenty nine percent growth in online sales in 2018 and a growth in retail sales as well (almost six percent). But for those who refuse to go through a digital transformation fast enough, the risk is real.

In 2018 when some iconic retailers shuttered their doors by either completely going out of business or closing a portion of their stores. Retail is incredibly competitive, and specialty stores or brands that can’t innovate and compete often fall by the wayside. Thanks to Amazon and an explosion of direct to consumer companies like Casper, Dollar Shave Club and Away, more big box retailers are closing their doors.

Here are the top 9 biggest retail closures of 2018:

1. Toys R Us

Iconic toy store Toys R Us closed the doors of all of its 735 stores in June after months of liquidation sales. It marked the end of an era for brick-and-mortar shopping in standalone toy stores. Even with a loyal customer base and strong rewards program, Toys R Us had problems keeping up with online toy retailers and big box stores.

2. Sears Holdings

Sears has been battling to survive since it filed for bankruptcy in October. As a result, the company is restructuring and focusing on a smaller core of profitable stores. Sears Holdings announced in late 2018 that it will close more than 140 Sears and Kmart stores. Sears used to be a prominent retail store, but both Sears and Kmart have faced difficulties in recent years with increased competition and the growth of e-commerce. When given the choice to shop more modern brands online or go to an older Kmart store, customers are choosing the former.

3. Lowe’s

Home improvement store Lowe’s closed 51 stores across the U.S. and Canada. Nearly half of the under-performing stores are within 10 miles of another Lowe’s store, which has allowed employees to transfer to new locations. Closing less profitable stores will allow the company to focus on stores with big earnings.

4. Mattress Firm

Also on the list of retailers that filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy is Mattress Firm. As a result, the company closed 700 of its more than 3,300 stores. Stores closed quickly after the announcement, some within a few days and others within a few weeks. Most of the stores that closed were in markets that already had numerous other Mattress Firm locations. In recent years, many customers have moved to ordering mattresses online.

5. Brookstone

Mall and airport staple Brookstone filed for bankruptcy in August after a long period of slumping sales. Brookstone closed or is in the process of closing all 102 of its mall stores. However, it is adding 35 new stores in airports to help meet revenue goals. Airport stores tend to be smaller but gain lots of traffic from tired travelers wanting to test the famous massage chairs. Brookstone’s mall locations simply couldn’t compete with online retailers, and most consumers found it easier and more enjoyable to find their quirky gadgets online.

6. GNC

Vitamin store GNC closed 200 stores across the U.S. and Canada after slumping sales. The company said it was trying to renegotiate leases to lower the number of stores it closed, but that didn’t turn out. There are still more than 9,000 GNC stores around the world, but more locations could close if the company can’t turn things around. With its specialty products, GNC is in competition with other vitamin retailers and online stores.

7. Foot Locker

A fixture of many malls, Foot Locker closed 110 stores in 2018, mostly in malls that the company said were “starting to deteriorate.” As it closed underperforming stores, Foot Locker starting putting a bigger emphasis online. However, brick and mortar isn’t completely dead for Foot Locker: it also opened 40 new stores in 2018, including a Champs Sports flagship store in Times Square.

8. Teavana

Starbucks shut the door on its retail tea chain, Teavana. Most of the stores hadn’t been performing well, and Starbucks wanted to move the company in a different direction. In recent years Starbucks tried to spice things up with improved store designs and creative packaging, but it wasn’t enough. All 379 Teavana stores closed in 2018.

9. Claire’s

Home to tween girl accessories, Claire’s filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in March 2018 and announced it was closing more than 90 stores. It’s the perfect storm for Claire’s: aging customers, dying malls with slowing foot traffic and a move to online shopping. The store has also faced more competition from big box chains like Target and Walmart.

Nothing in retail is ever certain, especially as e-commerce continues to boom. Stores need to find ways to adapt or they might follow in the doomed footsteps of these retail stores.

Blake Morgan is a keynote speaker, futurist and author of “More Is More.” Sign up for her weekly customer experience newsletter here

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Note: The following link is not part of this article from Blake Morgan, but provides further details on additional bankruptcies experienced from 2015 through early 2019. It is quite extensive, but a very good review (Infographic with commentary) of the “Retail Apocalypse” and the impact of big-box retailers falling behind the technology curve and not shifting to e-commerce and establishing an online presence early enough:  Here’s A List Of 68 Bankruptcies In The Retail Apocalypse And Why They Failed from CBInsights (March 12, 2019).

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