Supermarkets: purveyors of fruit, veg and bog roll… not places you’d usually expect to find cutting edge of technology. However, thanks to their fast-paced and impulsive environment, they’re the perfect litmus test for retail’s shopper-focussed sea change: frictionless technology.
What do we mean by frictionless tech? Well, essentially using anything from AI-powered shopping baskets to biometric ID systems and beyond to make the consumer journey as smooth as possible in store, removing any and (in some cases) all barriers to purchase.
Recent research by IPSOS has shed a fascinating light on shoppers’ attitudes towards, and experiences with, shopping online compared to traditional physical stores. James Lewellyn, Head of Shopper at IPSOS, reported that “friction with Ecommerce is growing as shoppers are finding it harder to shop online than they would on the high street.”
Just because people are shopping online much more now, doesn’t mean it’s always the best experience. Far from it. So, as well as a focus on making the customer experience as engaging as possible, it’s critical to make sure it’s as smooth as possible too. After all, the desire for instant gratification is at an all-time high and our patience is at an all-time low.
It may or may not come as a surprise to discover that Amazon are leading the way in pioneering frictionless tech in the retail environment (the irony is not lost on us), launching their first ‘just walk out’ store in London this week. The tech on show in their new Ealing branch is an extension of, and improvement on, their original Amazon Go stores, which opened in the US in 2018. Now, all customers have to do is tap an app as they enter the store, pick up what they need, and they’re billed automatically when they leave. No scanning individual items or checking out necessary at all.
In a similar move, Imagr is trialling their Halo Smart Cart in the Japanese Oasis H20 store. Shoppers simply pair their phone with a basket and as they place each product inside, cameras recognise the items based on images the retailer has uploaded to the system. At the end of their shop, customers pay via the app, rather than at a checkout. So, not quite as smooth as Amazon’s system, but you can see where they’re going.
And it doesn’t stop there: Innovation consultants, CapGemini Invest, consumer agency, Sharp End, and media platform, The Drum, have formed a veritable marketing supergroup to bring a frictionless corner shop to life. The Shoreditch based test store, aptly named CornerShop, uses an app to guide shoppers through the space, adapting to their behaviour and preferences throughout their visit. This puts a slightly different spin on things, moving the intention away from a drive for impulse purchases and towards more purposeful purchases, which is probably where the tech would lean outside of an FMCG environment.
Not only is frictionless tech a bold investment that’s perfect for pandemic-friendly retail, but the autonomy it gives the consumer goes way beyond the virus by completely removing any perceived barrier between their experience and their payment. It makes retail more flexible and personal than ever, giving customers complete autonomy over their spree.
In the same way that Augmented Reality is now reaching an ‘accessible tipping point’ whereby it’s no longer reserved for those at the vanguard, the same will be soon be true of frictionless technology. The more brands that jump on board, the more effective and efficient the technology will become. And with Amazon now offering up their ‘just walk out’ system as a product for retailers to purchase, this could be a reality much sooner than you think.
Written by Jack Glasscock
March 11, 2021