Retail Turns to IoT to Keep Customers and Employees Safe

Contact-free shopping and socially distanced customer service have become premium offerings in stores trying to keep everyone safe from spreading the coronavirus. Digital displays and AI-powered shopping carts are leading the way back to enjoyable—and safe—shopping experiences. 


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Image credit: Caper

In virtually every culture, shopping plays a central role in people’s lives. From the souk to the shopping mall, retail marketplaces provide jobs, goods, and social interaction. So when physical retail activity is interrupted, it is disruptive on multiple levels. As we start to look past the shutdown, it’s imperative that retailers find innovative ways to provide consumers with a safe yet still fulfilling shopping experience. It’s already clear that IoT and smart technologies will have a significant role to play.

A great example is the use of IoT for live occupancy counting. Many retailers were already exploring tracking visitor counts and measuring store performance with IoT. It turns out that the same technology serves the more immediate need of monitoring the number of consumers in the store at a given moment. This approach is a significant improvement over manual counts, which can result in higher-than-optimal store occupancy.

Contactless Purchasing

Contactless checkout is another area where smart technologies promise to improve consumer experiences. One example is the AI-powered, smart-cart technology developed by Caper, which enables shoppers to purchase items without standing near other shoppers in the checkout line. Incorporating technology such as image recognition cameras for inventory items, weight sensors, and built-in credit card swipers, the smart cart represents a meaningful step forward in the contactless shopping experience.

Meanwhile, Standard Cognition utilizes a series of overhead cameras to identify what items the shoppers are placing in their carts. By the time the customer approaches the self-checkout kiosk, the AI-powered checkout has already tallied up the total cost of the purchase. Shoppers who have saved payment details on the app are billed automatically by their bank or credit card.

Socially Distanced Customer Service

A fantastic example of IoT in the retail environment is Perch Interactive’s highly innovative “lift and learn” interactive digital displays. Built using Intel® Core™ Processors, Intel® NUC Mini PCs, and Intel® NUC Kits, Perch displays enable consumers to experience digital demos, receive detailed product information, and determine product availability without interacting at length with a sales associate. Consumers are responding quite positively; Perch touts a 61 percent increase in sales of items included in the displays.

Women touching interactive display

Image credit: Perch Interactive

Retail employees, meanwhile, are benefiting from IoT innovations that decrease their face-to-face interactions with coworkers. Theatro, an Intel® Solutions partner, has developed Intelligent Assistant, an AI-powered platform that enables frontline workers to connect seamlessly with the right people and the right information in any part of the organization. The Intelligent Assistant greatly speeds ramp-up time for new employees, and it has been linked to increased sales, higher customer satisfaction, and lower operating costs.

As the economy opens back up, the retail industry will continue seeking solutions that enable stores to offer consumers a shopping experience that is not only safe, but fulfilling and fun. It seems clear that AI-powered smart carts, digital cameras, interactive displays, and other technologies that work behind the scenes will play an important role in this process.

To learn more about building safe retail store environments:

  • Check out interactive retail displays from Perch in the Intel® IoT Solutions Marketplace.
  • Learn more about how Theatro is helping frontline workers.
  • Watch a demo of how Theatro can help retailers and highlights of its deployment at Walgreen’s.
  • Listen to our podcast about the future of retail with Joe Jensen, Intel vice president in the Internet of Things (IoT) Group and general manager of the Retail, Banking, Hospitality and Education Group. 
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