AR and Robots: Redefining Retail Industry and In-Store Experiencesby Meenu EG February 5, 2021
Augmented reality and robots serve different purposes in the retail sector to enhance production, reduce costs, and improve customer experience.
‘After we walk into a retail store to pick up clothes, suddenly a robot comes to us asking what kind of cloth we want and which brand. Further, the robot follows us and picks the exact cloth we were looking for.’ Isn’t this incredible? Guess what, this scene is not from any upcoming science-fiction script, but this is a vague picture of what the future will look like in retail stores.
The retail industry is revamping its business operations by leveraging cutting-edge technologies like artificial intelligence, big data analytics, augmented reality, virtual reality, and robots. The Covid-19 pandemic had a considerable role to play in the digital transformation of retail stores across the world. E-commerce and omnichannel retail have changed the cliched face of retail stores. Many retailers migrated to digital platforms leaving behind their physical stores to facilitate pick-up and deliveries, called dark stores. The focus shifted towards customer experience and personalization, which can escalate revenues. Since customer engagement is a significant factor in today’s retail industry, many retailers embraced technologies like AI and augmented reality for decent business growth. Well, online stores can never replace in-store experiences and thus, brick and mortar stores are here to stay. Let us check out the impact of augmented reality and robots in the retail industry and find out if it is possible to pick one over the other.
How Does Augmented Reality Complement the Retail Sector?
In 2017, Ikea launched ‘Ikea Place’, an app that uses augmented reality and lets customers reimagine a space by placing 3D representations of furnishings. ‘Ikea Place’ makes the process of decision making easier for the customers and provides a right fitting product. There are many more retailers like Ikea, who leverage augmented reality to directly engage with their customers.
Augmented reality helps customers to visualize and even try on the products while sitting in their personal spaces. It enables the establishment of a direct connection with consumers in the absence of physical stores. Augmented reality in the retail industry ensures personalized customer services which are imperative for customer traction and business development. According to the Markets and Markets survey, the augmented reality is projected to reach 72.7 billion dollars by 2024.
Warehouse management, stock management, inventory control processes, and simplifying sales processes in a B2B setting are some other applications and advantages of augmented reality in the retail industry.
Augmented reality along with machine learning and artificial intelligence help in merging online and in-store experiences. These technologies can be incorporated into physical stores to maintain self check-out operations, reduce time wastage, and make product selection easier for the customers.
The Advent of Robots in Retail stores
The rising tech-savvy millennial customers get bored with the long queues in retail stores and wait for a customer relations agent to come and assist them. Although the retail industry is going online for the past few years, brick and mortar stores will cease to exist. The physical retail stores deliver a more personalized and real experience compared to the online platforms.
A Forbes report says, “As retailers look to trim costs and streamline operations, particularly along the supply chain, robots are only going to become more entrenched in retail’s day-to-day operations, taking on greater roles and interacting with employees and consumers alike as AI becomes smarter.”
Retail stores can use robots to provide better customer services. The robots can help customers find particular products much faster and easier than their human counterparts, and also interact with the customers for answering their queries.
Robots have been contributing to the back-end business operations like warehouse management, logistics, manufacturing, and more. Thus, robots entering retail stores is not a nascent thought. A Business Insider article from 2020 talks about a retail store robot Marty celebrating its first birthday. The report says that Marty, a googly-eyed robot that assists in store clean-up efforts, is celebrating one year since the start of its roll-out across 172 Giant Food Stores and 325 Stop and Shop locations across the US in January 2019.
This robot apparently is used for alerting employees about potential spills and hazards.
Since there is a certain fear looming around AI and robots taking over the human race, it is difficult for humans to accept them without suspicions.
Augmented Reality vs Robots
While measuring the capabilities of augmented reality and robots and their ability to revolutionize the retail industry, we can arrive at a conclusion that both are equally good at doing their parts. They cannot replace one another and thus, remains a great technological boon for the industry. Although augmented reality can be utilized in both online and physical stores, robots seem to fit better in physical retail stores. Augmented reality, robots, and other innovations are on their way to change how industries think, sell, perform and connect with their customers.