Brick and Mortar Retail isn’t dead – it’s just transformed.

Since 2017, thousands of physical retail stores have closed down as e-commerce began to rise. However, despite the “retail apocalypse,” brick and mortar retail remains to take up a huge part of the total global retail sales pie, with e-commerce at 14.1% in the last year.

In 2020’s post-pandemic new normal, forward-thinking and savvy retailers are continuously testing out and investing in next-generation technologies to stay competitive in the shift of buying habits, as well as continue to keep their customers safe within the store environment.

Computer vision is one of those technologies that enable brick and mortar to thrive as it presents opportunities to effectively bring physical and digital together.

“..what dies in the mall is being reborn online, and what was born online is increasingly crossing over to the physical world.” – Shopify

Computer vision in a nutshell

Computer vision is the scientific discipline concerning the technology of machines that “see” the way human beings do, or even better.

In essence, the computer acquires, processes, and classifies an image. Based on its understanding of the image, AI then generates an action.

It’s the same technology that powers facial recognition, self-driving cars, and analyzing medical scans, among many others.

How is it helping the retail industry?

In the last few months, my team started exploring training our own vision AI model for custom projects, and along the way, in our research and pursuit for results, we came across impressive ways computer vision benefits brick and mortar retail.

1. Generating richer store analytics

With smart cameras, businesses are able to generate data-rich insights on customer behavior in-store. It’s probably e-commerce’s biggest advantage over physical stores as tracking customer demographics, browsing pattern, and emotions, are among many other data that can be used to improve things like store layout or personalize offers on digital signage in-store.

2. Blurring the line between online and physical stores

Visual search, like Lens by Pinterest, brings together the breadth of online results with the visual and physical experience of a certain thing. Since launching a visual search feature in their mobile app, retailer Home Depot has seen significant growth. They’re able to provide product recommendations and make searched items prominent in the searcher’s app home.

3. Boosting customer loyalty

Much like the online experience, brick and mortar are able to greet customers by name through different technologies, including computer vision. With facial recognition, sweets retailer Lolli and Pops were able to identify loyal customers and reward them in-store. Artificial intelligence and their CRM work together to provide VIP service with personalized product recommendations and deals based on the returning customer’s taste profile.

4. Faster inventory tracking and shelf restocking

Compared to manual audits, robots equipped with computer vision and AI technologies survey shelves to see the placements of goods and analyze them faster as well as see if what products need to be replenished. According to an article by Forbes, Coca-cola is among many CPG companies enjoying better insights on their shelves while reducing the time spent as well as manual labor.

5. Promoting frictionless transactions

Cashierless store checkout is one of the most notable applications of technology in the retail industry. The online retail giant Amazon opened a pilot grab and go store, Amazon Go, that creates an unpreceded shopping experience. Along with machine learning and AI, computer vision is at the forefront of the concept store geared with over a hundred strategically located cameras to track shelf interaction and items taken. This innovative solution not only enforces physical distancing protocol, but also breathes life into the traditional retail model.

All these benefits of computer vision optimize overall store operation, from merchandising to staffing, and help the retail industry provide better service and experience to consumers in-store for better conversion. That’s to say, brick and mortar isn’t dead; it’s only being reborn. 

Article original posted as Computer Vision in Brick and Mortar Retail

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