Futuristic Shopping Experiences Present Detailed Analytics

I wrote this news story for WSJ. Custom Studios, a content marketing unit of the Wall Street Journal. This story appears in the unit’s Tech Mahindra project.

Ambient commerce helps retailers better understand their customers’ shopping habits and needs.

Amazon employees are beta-testing an advanced convenience store in Seattle that requires no checkouts. The store, which stocks with ready-made meals and beverages, is known as Amazon Go.

The marketing video of Amazon Go illustrates the store’s concept: a customer first scans his phone at a baffle gate, proceeds to the shelves and grabs a sandwich, then walks out of the store by passing through the same set of gates.

“We use computer vision, deep learning algorithms, sensor fusion, much like you will find in self-driving cars,” the narrator of the video said.

Fusing sensors on the shelves to monitor when an item has left or returned, all the products are keeping track in the customer’s Amazon Go app virtual cart. The e-commerce giant then charges the consumers’ account as they walk out of the store.

The store marks a new chapter in the retail industry as the inception of ambient commerce becoming a reality.

China is also testing a similar effort. In late January, an e-commerce startup launched a prototype of a mobile convenience store with no on-site staff. The store equips with wheels for easy relocation. A marketing video demonstrates how it works.

Customers are required to register in advance to gain access to BingoBox, the Chinese automatic convenience store. They enter the store by scanning a QR code from the user’s mobile device.

The video shows a customer checks out by placing all the selected items on a scanner for detection. A monitor lists all the products with quantity and price. The user pays with WeChat Pay, a popular mobile payment in China.

The video claims the store’s cameras are capable of scanning all the purchased items to verify if the customer has paid them all before the person leaves the shop. On the other hand, if a product is found unpaid, the shop broadcasts an announcement and alerts the customer to put it back on the shelf.

The video also shows the shop provides a 24-hour on-screen customer service remotely with a push of a button in the store.

The advantage of the automatic stores of Amazon Go and BingoBox is capturing big data and understanding analytics behind the technology investment.

Ambient commerce takes advantage of the data generated by our mobile devices, e-commerce sites, and smart appliances to make buying recommendations. With our growing interconnected digital lives, it’s an inevitable next step for the retail industry.

It’s especially the case when we volunteer to feed the computers with information for calculations to form a decision: when and what to buy.

At the moment, Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba’s Taobao and Tmall are already tracking consumer shopping habits and history every time consumers open up their mobile app or log on the sites. Alibaba knows what items people had interest in having lingered for a while, what similar items they have viewed, and what products they keep in the shopping cart for a while.

As consumers shop for groceries and daily necessities online, they receive notifications from the e-commerce sites to remind them it’s time to replenish their toilet paper.

Alibaba experimented with augmented reality last November leading up to the world’s largest online sales day in China. It’s an immersive and digitized experience, where shoppers walked along the streets of Beijing and other Chinese cities with their Tmall mobile apps in tow. However, sometimes even cutting edge commerce needs a warmer, human (furry) touch as a mascot offers in-app coupons to lure consumers into the stores.

Digital innovators such as Tech Mahindra are only propelling such a change as the solutions that they offer enterprises allows them to manage and push for sales using tools such as improving order rates using a cart optimizer, whilst creating customer-centric experiences – crucial in the ever-demanding consumer world of the digital era.

The US is also now catching up to China’s head start as States across the country see a significant shift in consumer behaviour to online shopping. Far from being the death of retail, it is being revamped to digital platform, bringing the storefront to your fingertips.

This story first published on WSJ. Custom Studio’s website.

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