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Retail Tech 2022: The In-Store Digital Experience

Retail technology, in store digital experience, omnichannel retail, retail customer experience

Related Content

To learn more about the future of retail and the role system integrators will play, read our articles: Retail Analytics Transforms Data to Insights and IoT Solution Factory Builds System Integrator Growth.

Transcript

Corporate Participants

Kenton Williston
insight.tech – Editor-in-Chief

Kristen Call
Intel® – Senior Industry Advisor, Americas RBH

Lisa McGarvey
Tech Data – Director, Solutions Development & Vertical Markets NA

Styrbjörn Torbacke
Advantech – Head of iCity Services Europe

Presentation

Kenton Williston: Hello and welcome to the insight.tech webinar, “Retail Tech 2022:” The In-Store Digital Experience”. I’m Kenton Williston, the Editor-in-Chief of insight.tech and your moderator for today’s session. This panel features experts from Advantech and Tech Data, who are both members of the Intel Partner Alliance, as well as a friend from Intel itself, and we will all be taking a look at the future of retail as shoppers continue to return the stores.

Before we get started, a little bit of housekeeping. I’d like to let our guests introduce themselves. So, Styrbjörn, I’d start with you. Could you tell me a little bit about who you are and what you do at Advantech?

Styrbjörn Torbacke: Thank you very much for the introduction, Kenton. My name is Styrbjörn Torbacke, a Swede. I head up what we call ICT services, which basically is retail, but we’ve also brought a certain amount of smart spaces applications and smart city into that. Headquartered out of Munich, but as said, a Swede residing in Stockholm. I’ve never worked in retail, but sold hardware, software, and AI to retailers for the past 10 years.

Kenton Williston: Lovely. Lisa, I’ll go to you next. Could you please give me a little bit about yourself?

Lisa McGarvey: Sure, Ken, thanks. Hi, I’m Lisa McGarvey. I’m Director of Vertical Markets and Solution Development at Tech Data. I have responsibility for North America, and my team really focuses on vertical markets programs and enablement, as well as really developing solutions that align to vertical markets, and I’m excited today to talk to you about what we’re seeing in the retail market

Kenton Williston: Wonderful, and Kristen, I’ll come to you last, but definitely not least.

Kristen Call: Oh, no worries. I’m so happy to be here with my partners. I’m Kristen Call, I am the senior industry advisor for the RBH, it means retail, banking, and hospitality. Those are my focuses. I actually did spend 25 plus years in retail. I’ve done almost every gig in retail that you can think of, and it’s one of my very passionate topics, and I’m excited to be here with all of you.

Kenton Williston: Fabulous, you said retail, baking, and hospitality?

Kristen Call: Banking—not baking, banking.

Kenton Williston: No, I knew that.

Kristen Call: It’s really early in the morning for me.

Kenton Williston: Just giving you a hard time. OK, very good.

So, in today’s agenda, I want to first take a look at where we are now, as we’re at the end of 2021, talk a little bit about what consumer expectations are in the present moment and how those might be evolving moving forward, and in particular, have a conversation around the interchange between brick and mortar and e-commerce and again, how that might change as we look forward, and then focus on I think what the key topic, really, of today’s conversation is, in-store technology that’s going to provide that really amazing shopper experience. And then I want to look a little bit at some of the implementation questions of how to bring this technology to life and how to make it work most effectively and have the best return on investment, and then, of course, as the title of this webinar suggests, talk some about where things are heading next.

First and foremost, a little bit of a review of where things stand today, and of course, as we all know, the pandemic has really defined what shopping looks like over the last 18 months or so, and I would even say redefine that to a great extent, and it has had a tremendous impact on how stores operate, what kind of experiences customers are having, and pretty much everything you can think of retail related all the way to the supply chain and all the rest.

So, Styrbjörn, I’d like to start with you. What, from your perspective, do you see as being some of the biggest impacts the pandemic had on the retail experience?

Styrbjörn Torbacke: Thanks, Kenton. I think I’m seeing, which isn’t a new thing, but it’s the absolute acceleration of the move from brick and mortar shopping to the online experience. That has been an underlying trend. We’re seeing that, and have seen it for many, many years, but the rate at which that, for obvious reasons, accelerated during the pandemic, not all countries or regions have been as fortunate as me in the Nordics, where shops pretty much have stayed open all through the pandemic, and you’ve gone to more physical kind of measurements, i.e., putting plexiglass in front of the cashier to still allow a physical interaction between people, but without that immediate ability to breathe on someone else. But of course, you’re seeing the trend of both bases, buying online, pick up in store being exchanged for curbside pickups or home delivery, all that.

Kenton Williston: Yes, absolutely, couldn’t agree more, and I think one of the key questions in my mind is how well various retailers have responded to all these new requirements. And Lisa, I’d love to hear your thoughts on that, if there are any other, you think, major issues that have arisen during the pandemic, as well as how have merchants responded to these new circumstances we find ourselves in.

Lisa McGarvey: Yes, I mean, I agree with Styrbjörn had said about the impact of the pandemic has definitely accelerated digital transformation in retail, and that growth and shift and move to e-commerce, and one of the big changes that we’ve seen or acceleration of all retailers pivoting to really implement those omnichannel strategies to create and optimize things like buy online, pick up in store. This creates a faster, more secure, convenient shopping experience, and these are really the types of services that help retailers remain competitive, and help shoppers feel safe during the pandemic. So, we’ve seen shoppers really adopt the curbside pickup and fulfillment, and I believe it’s definitely here to stay because it makes customers feel safe, and it’s also convenient. And we’ve seen companies across the board, the big companies like Bed Bath & Beyond, Michaels, Nordstrom, Dick’s, but even local retailers. I mean, I’ve seen local retailers who didn’t even have websites in my area, build their websites, spin them up, and then also offer curbside pickup because they had to, because it’s crucial to the experience that they need to offer today, during the pandemic and ongoing, and making sure that they’re not playing catch up to their competitor.

So, I think what’s really going to be the big impact is, you know… being precise, being precise on inventory counts and operational efficiency, so wait times. So, that’s really going to set certain retailers apart, making sure they get those things right, and that they have the systems in place to effect those inventory counts and wait times, and be really accurate in what they’re providing to their customers. I was actually reading an article and it said in Target’s third quarter of 2020, their same-day services grew more than 200%, adding $1 billion in incremental sales. So, those are the types of things that are making a difference right now, and where we’ve seen retailers really pivot and change.

Kenton Williston: Yes, totally, and one thing I think is important here is to define some of our terms up front. So, we were talking about retail tech, but of course, retail means a lot of different things, and I think Kristen, to the point, we were just joking about your title, there’s banking, there’s hospitality, it’s quick service restaurants, it’s many, many different things, and I’d love to hear from the Intel perspective, across this broader expanse of industries, what some of the key changes have been.

Kristen Call: I mean, yes, all of the things that have been said right now are, I think, across the board. The in-store pickup, the online presence, be able to shop anywhere, and those are not new themes. I don’t think that the pandemic really created those themes. Those just enhanced the need to have those and we’ve seen some of the laggards come up front, and the ones up front tried to even get better at those types of services. So, it just really depends on those, I call them the retail sub-verticals, because you’ve got grocery stores, big box chains, you’ve got C stores and that, and everyone is having their own challenges, because their businesses are just—they’re different, and I think that I’ve looked at how retailers have responded. You’ve seen some really great innovation and up to the challenge of what it meant, and those are the ones that have survived throughout 2020 and into 2021.

And talking about statistically, so I was reading an article back in early 2020, and it was saying that 90% of US sales still occur in their four walls, and so people still want to shop, but there is something about I want to go and do my research online, I want to look, I want to peer into what these products are, because that’s really hard to do at the store, oftentimes, and that’s where we’re seeing that digital transformation. If I’m standing in front of our product, I want to know more about that product, and so that’s bringing that digital experience into the stores, and that’s not in every single retail sub-vertical, but a lot of the big box, and even the grocery stores being able to do recipes in real-time, if I’m looking at the pasta or something like that. So, I think that innovation is going to continue where it was and where it can be, so retailers to me, I think they’re doing a great job.

Kristen Call: Yes, perfect. I love that point you made about the way folks are thinking differently about how they shop. In particular, this idea that in-store shopping experience can also involve doing things on your phone or other device while you’re in the store, I think is becoming an incredibly important part of the customer experience.

So, I’d love to hear, Styrbjörn, I’ll just circle right back around to you, what you see as some of these new expectations for how people are shopping today, when they’re in the store, how they’re expecting to utilize technologies, whether it’s their phones, whether it’s a digital kiosk or other devices, and how that’s going to impact what retailers need to provide moving forward.

Styrbjörn Torbacke: Thanks, Kenton. Before I move into and reply to that question, I’d like to tie on to something that Kristen mentioned, and it’s that thought about the change and the sub-verticals within retail, where I think it’s quite clear that if you look at grocery, if you look at QSR, they have suffered the least because the Germans were stockpiling on toilet paper at the outbreak, for example, so the grocery retailers were running like crazy all the way through the supply chain and all the way up to front of store, and there it was—it wasn’t so much about the experience. It was about the need to get the goods, why they did well, even if they weren’t being clever about it. So, I think one of the things we are going to see, as we move forward, is the consumer, the customer, having been acquainted with, or accustomed to, the more clever, the more immersive customer experience with other retailers in other sub-verticals, and starting to demand this experience also from the other ones.

So, I mean, if you look at it, let’s face it, today, I don’t need to go to a store. I can do basically anything online. I can have everything delivered to my doorstep within an hour. I can’t get to the store and do what I want to do in the store and get back within an hour. So, it makes absolutely no sense from that point of view, which means that I must individually desire, I must want to go to a store to have that experience.

And then we’re back at what you asked about what specific technologies. I think that the first bit, one thing is going to be about the ease, so how obstacle-free, how seamless, can the retailer make my shopping experience, everything from, obviously in COVID times, how I come in, how I find my products, how I learn about them, how I can select them, and on to Lisa’s favorite subject, how I can pay for them very seamlessly, and get back out of the store.

Kenton Williston: Yes, absolutely, and so Lisa, your name was invoked, I’ll throw things over to you. How do you see technology playing out in terms both of meeting the new customer expectations and, to Styrbjörn’s point, just in general how it is working back of house to make everything come together.

Lisa McGarvey: Yes, I think he brought up some good points. I mean, convenience is one piece, right. I mean, and the convenience is exactly what was said, right. Ensure that you’re getting that same easy experience that you got through e-commerce, that you get that in-store, right, and it’s fast and convenient and seamless. This includes checkout lines. No one wants to be waiting in line, right. They want tap-and-go payment methods, contactless payment, self-checkout. These are all natural extensions of the digital experience, and they provide fast, frictionless ways to pay with minimal lines, right. So, it’s that—it’s that experience and having that same convenient experience, but it’s also personalization, right. And personalization relies on data, and it’s not just about collecting data, but really knowing how to use it. And retailers must really invest in enabling their store associates to be able to have customer profiles, know who they’re talking to, instantly create personalized experiences. Customize messaging on kiosks or menus when a person enters a store.

You know, now more than ever, it’s so important that employees of the stores are using more personalization when they’re reaching out to their customers. And one of the best ways to build customer loyalty is through loyalty programs. And we’ve seen a lot of that in recent times. I mean, we’ve always had them, but we’re seeing them even get more personalized, right, and leveraging more analytics and data to help identify more marketing opportunities.

And retailers are putting more—you know, a spin on their traditional loyalty programs. They’re supporting more in-store shopping, adding more personalized offerings. You’ll see early access to sales, right, or charitable events, or exclusive experiences. And that just really helps with that personalization that’s so critical right now for retailers.

Kenton Williston: Yes, absolutely. And Kristen, I know—speaking of this analytics idea, this is an area that’s been very important to Intel, I think, you know, for quite a while now, but certainly during the pandemic. And what are some of the ways in which you’re seeing the idea of customer analytics and being able to deliver a better experience evolving?

Kristen Call: I’m going to split it into a couple of sections here, actually, I could do it in quite a few different—split it in different ways. But you know, you’ve got your traditional ingestion of data, it’s going up into your cloud, it’s going into your data centers, it’s getting consumed there and then extracted for statistical analysis later, right. So, that’s yesterday’s—today’s data looked at tomorrow or in the future.

You know, what we’re trying to see—what we’re seeing now is, is that the data that is being generated at the source, which is at the store, is going to be—you know, and analyzed there in real-time, and doesn’t have to necessarily go back to the cloud, because we’re looking at, you know, so much data. And do you really need all of that to go up into your cloud? Well, I think that the retailers are seeing that they can have a choice now.

Now, that doesn’t make the deployment or the—and you know, putting that kind of a solution in the store easy, because how much data do you need and how much compute do you need? All those questions make it a very complex challenge, but that’s why we have fabulous system integrators to help solve some of those problems and—

But those are where—you know, Lisa was hitting on that personalization. So, is my top customer walking in the door? Who is—how many people are in line? Do I need to bring another associate up if I don’t have, you know, an instant way to checkout? So, it’s really providing, not just personalization, but I think if you take a look at retailers that are complacent, I call it a little bit of complacency, where I’m just going to—I’m going to let my customer sit in line for, you know, three or four seconds. And three or four seconds in retail, that’s like a lifetime, right. But I’m going to change that out and I’m going to really be on top of the game and make sure that my customer—I welcome them into my store, and then I’m going to get them out quickly, because they came to purchase something at my store. So, I see a difference in that way for retailers to really set themselves apart from each other.

So, it’s, you know, an interesting playing field in today’s world, but those are the kinds of challenges that I see that retailers are taking on.

Kenton Williston: Wonderful. And something that I’m hearing, I think, clearly from all of you is how critical the idea of having a very, very tight connection between the electronic, online, on-device experience and the physical experience have become. So, I’d like to hear a little bit more about what that dynamic looks like today, where it’s going next.

And Kristen, I’ll stick with you here. How has this balance between in-store and online shopping changed? And where do you see this going next?

Kristen Call: Well, I think before we get to change, we have to look at how systems are either siloed or inoperable. And I think that retailers are trying to take that piece on. Some of it—again, we have, you know, retailers that are advanced in this area, and other ones are laggers. So, it’s really how do I bring my systems together so that they can talk?

I have my online store and then I have my in-store, and oftentimes, they are not the same, right. They are very separate, the pricing is separate, and it’s a different challenge in where you’re competing. And so, I think retailers are really trying to look at how can I bring my systems together? How can I allow customers to have the best pricing? You know, some of those—the same challenges that we had before 2020 still exist here in 2021, and I think they’re putting a lot more focus on how to bring those systems and making them operable, and that they seem to the customer as one system.

Kenton Williston: Absolutely. And Styrbjörn, from the Advantech perspective, what sorts of things are you seeing your customers doing? What’s Advantech doing to help bring these worlds together?

Styrbjörn Torbacke: Oh, what we’re doing on our side is I think it’s taking to understanding what we’re good at and where we need partners. So, I mean, Advantech is a hardware manufacturer first and foremost, so we provide the platforms, we provide the edge compute that Kristen talked about, the ability to turn the data around in-store than not necessarily sending everything into the cloud.

And I’d really like to tie onto what Lisa said there about putting this information that you’ve gathered into good use with a store attendant. It is the people in the store that make the experience for the shopper, for the customer. So, sending things up for statistical analysis is great, but I talk about the democratization of insights and that is the sharing of people—of that insight with the people on the shop floor, because they are the ones that are going to make the real difference in the shopper experience.

So, we try to provide our platforms, be part of discussions like this, work with great partners like Tech Data, with their system integrators that sit with the special knowledge of understanding both the domain retail, as well as being very versed in the systems.

And I think one thing we’ve seen—and I don’t know if this is, and this is an open-ended question to you guys who are more US-centric than I am, many—and we’ve had massive shop death throughout the UK during the pandemic, and all the headlines have been “This company has been operating for 150 years, and now they’re gone, that entire chain has closed down”. And I think part of that is because they have sat on old systems, very siloed systems, unflexible sometimes, written in programming language that is hardly around even. And it makes it so much more difficult for them to adapt. Whereas the ones that come out of the online world, even if they have a physical presence and do brick and mortar stores, typically, is my experience have built that on more modern technology, more adaptable, and platforms that are more adaptable to at least multi-channel.

I will make a claim and say that you cannot decide to be omnichannel as a retailer, because omnichannel is in the perception of the customer. You can be multi-channel, that is the strategy, you can decide to do it by being present in multiple channels, but whether the customer gets the experience that you’re one and the same regardless of where and how they interact with you, that’s really only they who  can tell you whether you succeeded in it or not.

Kenton Williston: Yes, absolutely. And I really want to come back—I think this question about having flexible systems, integrating systems together is incredibly important, something I want to touch on again a little bit later in our conversation.

But first, Lisa, I’d love to hear, as a systems integrator, you’ve got a pretty broad perspective on what’s happening. I think there’s a really interesting question here of how merchants should even be thinking about this question, multi-channel, omnichannel, I mean, these are terms people have been talking about for years now. But my sense is, to Styrbjörn’s point, you know, it’s really—the industry may need to rethink even what these terms mean.

So, Lisa, where do you see the industry needing to take this conversation next to actually deliver something that the customers truly perceive as, “Yes, this is an omnichannel experience where I’m getting that consistent excellent experience, whether, you know, I’m in my home, I’m out and about, I’m the store”, regardless of where and how I’m shopping, it feels the same to me.

Lisa McGarvey: Yes, no, thanks, Kenton. And I want to touch on—Kristen made a good point that physical stores are still very much a part of the customer journey, right. Customers are looking for those shopping experiences. So, when we talk about omnichannel, I mean the physical store is still a part and piece of that.

But, I mean, when I think about omnichannel, it’s really empowering retailer brands to reach consumers at every touchpoint of the buying experience, right, whether it’s online, in-store, and providing a relevant consumer experience across all the channels wherever they want to buy, right. So, that, to me, is what the omnichannel looks like.

Now, I mean, that’s continually changing, right, how consumers want to buy. But we know that it’s critical that they want what they want, when they want it, where they want it, and that’s what omnichannel is really about, making that experience across all those different purchasing ways in the buyer’s journey and engaging in multiple ways across diverse platforms, understanding and ensuring that customers are getting that consistent experience. And that’s what’s so important. And that’s where I really think a lot of the things that we talked about, you know, providing that shopping experience in the brick and mortar, the digital, and making sure that it’s seamless, frictionless.

And it really comes down to personalization, right. Responding to the interests of your consumers. Make sure you understand who they are, engage with them, know what they want, and they will be more loyal and they’ll come back to you as a retailer. So, personalization.

The other one is really about, you know, making sure that when they do come into a store or go online, they’re getting that experience that’s fast, efficient, and frictionless, right. So, making sure that they get that experience.

And then the third is social integration. And I don’t think any of us have talked about the social integration yet, but I think that’s really important, and that’s the next piece where we’re seeing that omnichannel is really touching audiences in—through social media platforms, and creating more opportunities for your consumers to share content, promote your products and services, and really offers you different ways to engage and interact.

So, I think, you know, that’s really about—so, personalization, convenience was the word I was looking for, the fast and efficient checkouts and whether it’s online or in-store, and then the social integration piece. Those three pieces are really, you know, important to the buyer’s journey.

Kenton Williston: Yes, that’s great. I love the point you’re making about how broad of a vision retailers really need to have to deliver an amazing experience. So, I want to dive a little deeper, specifically into that in-store experience and the technologies that are really making a difference there.

So, Lisa, I’ll just stay with you here. What do you see as being some of the most critical technologies being deployed today to transform that in-store experience?

Lisa McGarvey: Yes, I think we talked about, you know, data analytics, but we didn’t really get into artificial intelligence and machine learning have really introduced a new level of data processing, right, and it really deepens the business insights that retailers can use. And they can use it for personalization. But also, you know, as we look at supply chain and logistics, artificial intelligence can be used for demand forecasting, and that’s to support, you know, the shopping experience, whether it’s in-store or online to make sure that you know what inventory you have and be able to forecast that. And also, you know, leveraging different, you know, cloud-hosted point-of-sale systems, we talked about that a little bit.

But I’m really seeing artificial intelligence start to ramp-up. And you know, you look at Amazon AI and what they’ve done. They’ve already introduced, you know, checkout free stores. You just go in and walk out with your product, because of the technology that they’re using.

We look at things like AI chatbots, and these are able to provide even a higher level of customer service that improve, you know, searching. They can send notifications about new things in the store, suggest similar products. So, that’s—you know, if you already bought this, you might want to look at this. And that’s that personalization, right, it really focuses in on that.

Price optimization, right. Stores need to stay flexible with their pricing, be able to adjust quickly for pricing and promotion. So, artificial intelligence can be used to be looking at those types of pricing forecasting strategies.

So, I think there’s a lot there around AI in, you know, also the retail supply chain. You know, restocking, looking for different products, history of sales, looking at locations or trends, promotions, how weather impacts things, right. So, a lot of opportunity in AI.

And then, obviously, IoT still has massive potential for the retail industry. We’re seeing a lot around, you know, beacons and, you know, the ability to leverage people’s smartphones, pick up their signal, send them coupons as they enter a store that are personalized depending upon what they’re looking at.

Other IoT technologies, you know, RFID tags, smart barcodes gives you visibility to where the products are. I was just reading, Lululemon uses RFID tags to update and track inventory, and it’s improved their inventory accuracy to 98%.

So, solution—technology solutions like that are critically important as we see both in-store and online experience.

Kenton Williston: Yes, absolutely. And I think one of the key things that’s been really changing—over the last, I mean, pick any timeframe you want, a very short timeframe, because it’s been happening so fast—are the areas of AI, machine vision. And I think those are incredibly powerful in terms of building on some of those existing technologies like beacons, RFIDs, and providing just an incredible level of visibility into how customers are behaving and how to serve them best.

Kristen, I know this is an area that’s been very important to Intel. So, I’d love to hear some of your perspective on how retailers, you know, whether that’s grocery stores, fashion, whatever it is can best make use of these technologies.

Kristen Call: Yes, there’s a lot of different areas that computer vision can make a big difference for retailers and enhance the employee. And as we have seen in the news, you know, hiring is a big problem right now, and getting people, you know, as an associate has been challenging.

So, one of the ways that computer vision can help, it can augment the associate. It can also enhance the customer experience and the quality. So, for example, we’re seeing computer vision being deployed to watch the food areas, right. So, how is the cook prepping the food? Are they cross-contaminating? Or—all the way to loss prevention. You know, watching and making sure that the items get scanned and alerting if someone is doing, you know, a swap with products, or it was a 4011, or whatever, the banana trick. So, a lot of ways that we can utilize cameras to be able to do operational efficiencies or help associates know when shelves are empty, or help, you know, customers understand what a product is. Cameras can be used in so many different ways. And that computer vision is a very—we’re seeing it deployed now, and like you said, Kenton, you know, two years ago, no retailer would have thought about deploying a computer vision solution. And today, we’re starting to see it deployed more and more to solve a lot of different types of problems.

Kenton Williston: Yes, awesome. And Styrbjörn, I’d love to hear more from you, and particularly, you’ve talked a lot about helping the personnel in-store and, you know, Kristen is absolutely right, it’s been very, very tough in every industry, but certainly retail is leading here, very, very difficult to hire people, you know, get folks trained up, get people with the right experience. So, how do you see the technologies helping them and, you know, more broadly, where do you see some of these leading edge technologies, like AI and machine vision playing a role?

Styrbjörn Torbacke: As you pointed out, Lisa, again, there are many areas where we very clearly have one and the same vision, and that is the importance of the store staff for the experience of the customer.

When I hear about the technology and all the great things that can happen with it as well, I think there is a “but” in here. And the “but” being that some retailers will not have done their homework and will not have understood the key point that it is about creating the customer experience. And how are you going to cater to the needs and desires of the customer if you don’t understand them.

And there, if you think that just implementing technology, be that state-of-the-art or whatever, is going to save your customers from voting with their feet and taking their business elsewhere, then you need to be very careful.

But as we pointed out, said by Kristen, said by Lisa, RFID, we talk about vision. There are different types of vision. Us, in Europe, being very focused, of course, on GDPR, and integrity of people. We don’t like cameras, especially not in the UK, even though it’s the most CCTV-covered country in the world, next to North Korea probably, we’re still looking at it—and there are alternative technologies. So, LiDAR, for example, that will give you the benefits of the computer vision without actually being able to see you. It will detect an object, it will classify it as a person, obviously, you’re losing out on information on that. You will not be able to do a gender classification, you will not be able to do an age group classification of that object, but you’ll be able to recognize that you have a person, and you can then track their behavior in-store.

And why is that important? Well, it’s because—and again, now I’m taking very much the perspective of the customer rather than the underlying retail systems, and that’s just my passion, that’s why I’m going here. We are social constructs as individuals, so it’s difficult to ask us what we want, and how we behave in-store, because you’re not necessarily getting a truthful answer. One being the fact that we simply haven’t reflected over what we do, and therefore, we’re inadvertently misleading in the information we’re conveying. And another one is the social construct that, “Well, if I’m heading into a liquor store and meeting my Sunday school teacher on the street outside, maybe I’d be more prone to walking past rather than going in”. So, there are multiple aspects of that.

And there are technologies that allow us to get the benefits of the IoT sensors without necessarily having them. So, I guess what I’m saying is that there is a time and a place for all of these technologies, more or less. And the key is you get the real values when you bring them all together.

So, I talk about the three Cs when you talk about insight. It’s the Comparing, Combining, and Correlating of different data sources, because that gives you the same as a 1D, 2D, 3D picture gives you a different level of completeness of your understanding. And when you then bring in the RFID on the product side and start building that entire system, it becomes extremely powerful.

Kenton Williston: Absolutely. And you’ve given me a perfect segue into what I wanted to talk about next, which are the challenges associated with these technologies. And I think there are two important fronts, one of which, Styrbjörn, you mentioned. You know, it’s not just technology for technology sake, right, it has to make sense to the customer. Their experience has to be good, they have to be comfortable with it. And then, of course, there’s just the raw challenges that we brought up earlier, and Styrbjörn I’ll thank you for this as well, you know, some of the integration elements, right. Like everyone has their existing systems, how do you incorporate the new things you want to do right alongside with what you’ve got in your existing infrastructure? And then, of course, there’s the complexity of everything we’re talking about. There’s a lot of moving parts here. How do you successfully implement and bring all these things together?

So, of course, these are great questions for a systems integrator to talk about. So, Lisa, can you give me some of your thoughts on some of the key challenges you’re seeing your customers encounter and some of the main thoughts they can keep in mind as they’re considering how to move forward?

Lisa McGarvey: Yes, so, I mean, we’re really seeing, not just in retail, but in all industries, right, the amount of data gathered by businesses is growing at an alarming rate, so—but the number of staff available to analyze it is staying the same or less, right. So, retailers need to look at that and—you know, what’s important then is making sure all the data is being used in a correct way and not contributing towards the data silo problem, right, to some of the problems that you talked about. And finding the right technology solutions that can handle the amounts of data being generated and ensure that it’s, you know, supporting things that retailers need as far as, you know, marketing efforts and personalization.

So, we’re starting to see and the market’s starting to see the data scientist approach, right. We’re seeing more retailers focus on hiring data scientists for more of those integrated marketing approaches, being able to leverage that data. And you know, data is only going to become more prevalent as time goes on, so we need to—it’s part of that whole omnichannel view and what we need to focus on as retailers.

So, you know, that’s definitely what we’re seeing from a data perspective, right. And again, you know, it’s not just the retail industry, but we’ve seen that they’re really focusing more on that, trying to do more with less, and get those data scientists, you know, lined up to help them understand how to leverage the data that they have.

You know, especially as we’re heading into the holidays now, right, this is—it’s going to be a little bit critical to start, you know, getting ahead of these things and really looking at what are some of the things that they already have in place that they can leverage and really double-click on, right, to support.

You know, if we look at what’s going on, you know, right now. I just read an article that—you know, I think over half the—over 50% of shoppers, you know, have already done their Christmas shopping by the end of October. And you know, I don’t know about you, but I keep seeing “shop early, shop early”, right, because of all the logistics issues.

So, making sure that those technologies are in place for what’s coming right away, right. So, making sure that you ramp up your curbside offers, your buy online, pick up in-store, making sure that you have your inventory control systems in place preparing for what’s to come in the next few months with—and even in the next month, right, for the early shopping.

So, I mean, luckily there is a lot of AI-based technologies available to resellers—I’m sorry to retailers, and we do specialize in helping our channel partners have an ecosystem that they leverage with partners like Intel and Advantech, where they can provide the right solutions, looking at the retailer’s needs, and just help them determine what are their business needs, and what is the right technology to help support those business needs.

Kenton Williston: Perfect. And speaking of ecosystem and Intel’s role, Kristen, I’d love to hear from you. You know, of course you’ve got kind of that early view into the front, leading edge of technology. And where do you see some of the biggest hurdles for retailers as they’re implementing these technologies and what can they do to overcome them?

Kristen Call: Yes, I think that if you break it down, so many different aspects, right. So, Styrbjörn, you said it really well, you’ve got to look at the problem. What is the problem that the retailer’s trying to solve, and what are their social hurdles, their legal hurdles, there’s all kinds of hurdles that they have to consider when they’re trying to deploy these types of solutions? And you know, you can easily cross the bridge when you’re talking about a business problem and then technology to adopt to solve that business problem, right. And that’s a big challenge right there, first of all.

And in retail, if you want to take a look at the structure of retail, oftentimes, you have your business and your IT, and they’re not the same, right. Then, oftentimes, depending on the relationship, that could be a big hurdle just to go in and talk to the right person about how—you know, what are the challenges and how can we help solve those challenges. So, that’s one piece.

The other piece is once you get to, “OK, this is the problem that we want to solve”, that’s to understand all the data that you need to ingest, and it’s usually coming at the edge. And a lot of retailers are still trying to evaluate, what does that mean? What hardware do I need to have? And how do I ingest that data? And how do I keep it safe? Where’s the security pieces that I don’t want to get my fish tank hacked? I’m sure we’ve all heard that in the news, right. So, there’s a lot of things to consider there.

And then once I get it into a place where I can actually look at the data, back to Lisa’s point of data ingestion and getting the insights, you know, how do I then put it in a way that is consumable to whoever the person that needs to see this data.

So, there’s a big journey here and that’s why we partner with folks like Advantech and Tech Data. They’re here to help solve a lot of those challenges. And Intel, you know, we walk side by side bringing, you know, our architects, and our, I call them super smart people in our org, that’s one of the great things I love working at Intel is everyone is up for the challenge to support our retailers, to support our partners in order to solve these challenges.

Kenton Williston: Absolutely. And so, I’d like to talk about some practical examples of where you folks have done these things. And Styrbjörn, I’m particularly interested, you know, one of the topics that we have touched on, and in particular, you’ve brought up, you know, in the European context, the German context, in particular, how challenging it’s been for some retailers to update their systems and to move into the current era. Do you have some examples that you can share with us, or maybe an example, given the time we have, of where Advantech has worked with a customer to help them along this journey?

Styrbjörn Torbacke: I think what we’ve done, we’ve done with several of the retailers throughout Europe has been to try—and this is back to Kristen’s point about addressing the correct problem.

So, I mean, a lot of the investments that were taken were driven by the pandemic and driven by compliance rather than a sound business mind in “If I make my investment now, what am I going to get out of it?”, because the pandemic, hopefully, at least will reside and we’ll see a—maybe not the same world as before, but we’ll see something that is more similar.

And you’ve had those that have invested in facial cameras, just linked to a touchscreen that shows whether you have an augmented temperature or just showing how many people are in-store as an isolated number, back to the silo discussion.

If you, instead, which we then have tried to do, leveraging again the ecosystem that we have around us and the different insights and inputs our partners can put into this, make them understand that if they do invest in something that will have a business value in the post-pandemic world, maybe going for a slightly more expensive integrated system that allows them to gather data and insights throughout the store, edge servers to do some of the analysis and maybe even to not just do analysis, but turning the local insights, the in-store insights into actional, compelling events for the consumer, they can build on that.

They will still solve the basic function of compliance, how many people are in-store, does an individual have the right to enter the store et cetera, but their investment has a long lifespan afterwards.

And I think those are discussions and the most interesting ones that we’ve been having with retailers throughout Europe.

Kenton Williston: Absolutely. And I think those two ideas of having enough capability, having enough flexibility to not only do the job you need to do today, meet the pressing need, but give yourself the freedom to do something more beyond that are incredibly important.

And Lisa, I’m wondering, maybe you’ve got some examples that build off that, or just in general—

Lisa McGarvey: Yes.

Kenton Williston: —you showcase where retailers should be thinking as they move forward.

Lisa McGarvey: Yes, I think as we all said, we’ll continue to see that accelerated digital transformation initiative in retail. And as a part of those strategies, we’ve all talked about AI and edge compute playing a key role to automate day-to-day tasks, you know, provide real-time response, enhance the consumer experiences, as we’ve all mentioned.

And then, you know, I don’t know that we’ve touched as much on the health and safety-centric solutions, but we’ll, you know, continue to see a focus there as, you know, satisfying the customer, still, you know, making sure that they’re safe, healthy. So, we’ll still see that.

But I’ll just hit on a few things that we’ve recently seen, more specific solutions. So, inventory control and theft prevention, leveraging RFID technology. We’re seeing a lot of focus there. You know, the ability to automate inventory, asset tracking for loss prevention, for real-time visibility into where assets are at the location, managing that in real-time 24/7, track it by date or time or location. So, we’re seeing a big emphasis on that.

Smart cameras and computer vision. Kristen talked about computer vision. That’s so important right now to being able to monitor in-store occupancy, the flow of shoppers in-store. And also, again, that focus on safety and social distancing, those smart cameras and computer vision can be used to support that as well.

And then, really, we’ve seen an uptick in interactive media, which we haven’t really talked a lot about but, you know, displays and specifically that digital signage that really supports the customer experience in retail. And those digital displays have now become more engaging, more informative. They don’t require a physical touch. So, we’re seeing more focus on that interactive digital signage and digital displays to create those more personalized experiences.

And then one thing I would like to note is, I think, partnerships are really important and really support innovation, not only partnerships on the technology side of the house between, you know, companies like Tech Data, Intel, Advantech, our channel partners, but also partnerships in retail. And I think a good example of that that I, you know, have read a lot about is Coles and what they’re doing with major brands like Sephora and Lego to drive foot traffic, and Amazon. You know, those types of partnerships really drive the innovation that we’re starting to see for the future of retail. And it’s needed both on the retailer side as well as the technology side. And it’s needed for us to enable—to help our retailers. No one can do it alone, and I think that’s the big thing.

Kenton Williston: Absolutely. And so, just to wrap up our conversation, I would like to talk a little bit more about how we move together, as an industry, into this new future. You know, I think, to your point Lisa, and Styrbjörn, and Kristen you’ve both touched on this point, it’s an effort that’s going to require a lot of different technologies, a lot of different experts. And I think, really, a full ecosystem of folks working together to move into this future.

And Kristen, I’d love to hear—you know, of course, you’re working with Intel, as part of Intel, with some of these big marquee names, you know, what you see folks doing to put in place, you know, this foundation we’ve been talking about to enable you to move into this great unknown that is the future of the retail industry.

Kristen Call: Yes, so if you look at some of the retailers that—I call them, they’re the leaders, right, they’re blazing the path. You’ve got your Walmarts, your Targets, you know those are not just retailers, they’re now software companies, right. So, we see this—you know, Amazon, they’re the ones who set that standard. And so, it’s a big question, are they a retailer or a technology company? And the lines are becoming blurred.

And you look at this slide, you know, the robots are—they’re not far away. We’re seeing them in the warehouses now to be able to do pick and pack, to be able to bring those products upfront for dark stores, those kinds of technologies are real and they’re being tried and tested, and being implemented.

So, we’re being asked now from retailers, you know, how do I now have a robot to actually put products on my shelf? And I’m like that sounds a little futuristic still, we’re not quite there, but that’s where we all want to get. And I think it’s really understanding how this technology can enhance.

I don’t hear any retailer trying to say, “I want to replace. I don’t want to replace a person. I want to enhance a person. I want to make their job quality better”, right. I think the market now is, “I have to provide an experience for my associate, and so how can I have technology help in those cases?”.

So, yes, it’s—you know, I don’t know about you guys, but I’m old and when I think about this kind of stuff, this feels like, you know, Buck Rogers and way back when. This is the exciting future of where a retailer really wants to take it but, you know, the last mile of—you know, when looking at autonomous vehicles, I think Walmart just announced a partnership here in Phoenix that they’re going to be looking at autonomous delivery, and—Amazon’s been doing it for some time, thinking about how do I fly the product to you.

So, those are real—companies are really looking at these types of things. There’s a lot of challenges, of course, but as you live in that agile world, if you don’t try, you’ll never fail, and if you don’t fail, you’ll never succeed. So, I’ll pass it—yes, so exciting stuff.

Kenton Williston: Yes, absolutely.

Styrbjörn Torbacke: I don’t think you’re that far away, actually, when it comes to replenishing the stores. I was on a customer visit, I actually got to travel, in the Netherlands last week and stayed in a Van der Valk Hotel where the hotel restaurant had a robot busboy. So, basically, the waiter would take the dishes once we’re finished eating, and place them on a very silent, elegant, dark, shiny busboy that came gliding across the carpet. And when she then placed the dishes on that, very quietly took it around following the outer perimeter of the restaurant and disappeared into the kitchen.

So, you’ve got a little bit of assistance there in actually deploying the dishes from the table to the robot, or vice versa if you were to take it the other way. But also, the autonomous delivery vehicles, yes, Advantech are involved in a number of those kinds of projects. So, it’s definitely a reality and a lot more companies than what you would regularly see are involved in looking at these as real business opportunities.

Kenton Williston: Absolutely. So, Lisa, I’ll give you an opportunity to kind of have a last word here. What do you see coming in the surprisingly not so distant future? And what are some of the things retailers can do to ensure their readiness?

Lisa McGarvey: Yes, so, there’s a buzzword out there, it’s called “Phigital”, and it’s the physical and digital at the same time, a completely connected world. And I think that retailers need to really be thinking about that. And it’s all about looking at affirmations from social media, focusing on implementing technology that supports an incredibly personalized experience. And you know, that’s—everything needs to be customized for the consumer and there’s going to be a lot more in-store experience, as well as online.

And I think—you know, as we think about that and as the technology remains promising and retailers see that promise, there’s still a lot of work to do, right. There’s still a lot of work to do to move beyond experimentation. You know, things like robots like we just talked to, to being able to actually deliver tangible business value and those are the tangibles that are going to be able to help retailers extract that value from data across all of their organizations. And that’s where we can really help. That’s where partners like Tech Data, Advantech, Intel can help our retailers, because we focus on specialization, and we have the ecosystem of skills and capabilities across the business continuum to help reduce complexity and really help retailers monetize the opportunity, leveraging technology.

Kenton Williston: Wonderful. Well, that’s a perfect place for me to say thank you to all of you for joining us today. And I’d also like to say thank you to our audience for listening in. And if you’d like to know more about the latest and greatest in retail technology, and in particular, the latest coming from Tech Data and Advantech, you can navigate over to insight.tech to learn more.

About the Author

Kenton Williston is the Editor-in-Chief of insight.tech and served as the editor of its predecessor publication, the Embedded Innovator magazine. Kenton received his B.S. in Electrical Engineering in 2000 and has been writing about embedded computing and IoT ever since.

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