Computer Vision & Augmented Reality Put Customers at the Heart of Retail Resurgence

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Retailers across the globe have been forced to react swiftly to a vast array of unprecedented challenges brought about by the pandemic. It has spotlighted the need for them to rethink how they serve customers in new and novel ways in order to make up for lost ground and regain brand loyalty. Tackling this challenge head on is arguably easier for omnichannel retailers than it is for physical stores, which have felt the full force of COVID-19 and are now desperately seeking quick and cost-efficient ways to bounce back.

According to McKinsey & Co, retailers that can reimagine their omnichannel approach to create a distinctive customer experience will recover faster from the pandemic, citing critical actions as; double down on digital, inject innovation into omnichannel and transform store operations.

Digital transformation is certainly one way retailers can pivot successfully by putting customers at the center of their new norm strategies. Doing it at pace, however, could mark the difference between those that succeed and those that fail. Leading innovative technologies like in-store robots, electronic shelf labeling, advanced computer vision and augmented reality are set to play a starring role in making customer experiences more personal and safer through better inventory management and fulfilment approaches.

Thinking Beyond the Barcode To Win the Hearts and Minds of Customers

Barcode scanning on smartphones quickly became the hero amidst the pandemic for so many retailers, prompting a surge in Covid-safe customer services on enterprise apps like self-checkout and Scan & Go. Attention is now being turned towards other ways the humble barcode can revolutionize the way customers and retailers interact.

[Related: Retaining the New Consumer Through the Power of Technology]

Augmented reality (AR), for example, marries the love of physical shopping with the convenience of e-commerce. It takes the self-scanning experience to another level by bringing products to life — delivering visual product information directly to screens of consumers. Customers can browse and dive into every aspect of a product or several at once with instant access to product reviews, product specifications, video demonstrations, coupon offers, pricing and stock availability data. And for people who know exactly what they want, a search and find AR functionality allows them to spot the right product in seconds.

A study by confirms the value of AR in creating an enhanced shopping experience, with 71% of shoppers saying they would shop more often if they could use AR and 40% saying they would even consider paying more for a product if they could test it through AR.

Empowering Employees To Deliver Superior Customer service with Scanning-Enabled Smart Devices

Integrating advanced computer vision into retail operations apps also brings a new level of speed and efficiency to workflows and enables retail employees to go the extra mile for their customers.

Armed with smart devices, loaded with an enterprise app, employees instantly become personal shoppers with access to real-time product information and customer data at their fingertips. They can quickly locate product items for shoppers, identify stock availability and verify prices with a single touch on their smartphones.

Multiple items can be scanned simultaneously in a crowded assortment of products, and AR overlays alert them when the correct item is found. Batch scanning with AR also speeds up the click-and-collect process by matching a customer’s receipt with their pre-ordered item instantly. All these time-saving actions center on delivering a differentiated experience for customers, both in-store and online.

Speeding Up Inventory Management and Order Fulfilment Maintains Strong Customer Relationships

It’s long been recognized that less time spent back-of-house means more time spent with customers on the shop floor. Anything that can be done to fast-track inventory management and stock replenishment is a good thing. Switching from bulky and often shared dedicated scanners to smartphone scanning is one way of increasing the efficiency of back-of-house employees and saving money in the process.

[See also: Evolution of How Consumers Shop]

Functionality like AR enables back-of-house employees to instantly ID and validate receiving incoming stock inventories. Real-time and visual access to stock data anywhere in the store supports better decision-making and on-the-spot ability to check stock levels, re-fill shelves, fulfil orders and verify prices.

Services like buy-online-pickup-in-store (BOPIS), curbside pickup, click-and-collect and ship-from-store have greatly increased since the pandemic’s outbreak. Done efficiently, all these services add an extra dimension to customer service personalization.

High-performance smartphone scanning enables retailers to fulfil such contactless services themselves with accuracy and speed, thereby cementing customer relationships and access to insightful data. This will help eradicate the quality-of-service issues retailers have experienced due to rushing the implementation of these services without the necessary inventory visibility and accuracy.

The pandemic has undoubtedly fast-tracked retail digital strategies for all types of retailers. The challenge now is to continue that momentum, constantly innovating to regain lost time, to stay current and most crucially to retain customer loyalty and keep them safe.

Christian Floerkemeier is CTO and co-founder of Scandit.

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