Autonomous Retail Isn’t the Future, It’s the Present

Autonomous Retail Isn’t the Future, It’s the Present

Autonomous Retail Isn’t the Future, It’s the Present 1440 428 Maxwell Miller

For years, retailers have imagined a world where guests can shop on their own accord, undisrupted by the likes of long wait lines, human errors, and unpleasant interactions. While autonomous retail experiences aren’t for everyone, retail is showing a growing trend of self-operating brand experiences that blend efficiency, tech, and autonomy together.

As it stands, only 3% of global shoppers have experienced an autonomous retail space, with 75% of consumers looking forward to trying it. Shoppers are interested, especially with the rise in tech-enabled experiences post-pandemic. The push toward a cashier-less experience is not only in the works but necessary given the current labor shortages and consumer attitudes toward physical shopping… but it’s not quite ready yet.

Say Hello to Hybrid

Although many shoppers are ready to try a cashier-less experience, they’re not ready to go all-in yet. In the US, 70% of consumers prefer autonomous stores to be hybrid, compared to the 13% who prefer fully autonomous stores. Even if retailers go fully autonomous (at scale), the reception may be mixed out of the gate. In comes the hybrid experience…

Starbucks’ recent NYC concept with Amazon Go is a sign of the times, showing the ability for two brands to come together and streamline frictionless shopping with the comfort of a well-known experience. We’ve seen a similar concept launch here in Columbus on Ohio State University’s campus. Solely for pick-up, the space is digitally enabled both inside and out, leading to minimal interaction between an employee and a guest. While there isn’t any retail to coincide with Starbucks’ pick-up, clearly, they’re planning on scaling a semblance of autonomous shops in preparation for their Amazon Go partnership at scale.

A Global Footprint

From a world view, many shoppers are already implementing cashless shopping habits, with China and the United Kingdom primarily operating cashless. In the case of China specifically, almost all transactions are done via digital interface, simply through QR code. Even further, China is using facial recognition to take another step out of the path to purchase. In the US, tech like this is why over 65% of shoppers are worried about autonomous stores’ effect on privacy. Data mining in retail has gone micro, which leaves shoppers indifferent on whether they’re really ready to dive into this next phase of retail experience.

In 2019, UK brand Sainsbury abandoned its first cashier-less prototype after mixed success, stating that shoppers simply aren’t ready for this type of revolution. With the dramatic changes in the wake of 2020, plus the tech boom of consumers learning digital shopping techniques, it may be time for Sainsbury to re-think their 2019 concept.

What’s Next?

Data is a primary driver for why retailers are shifting into an autonomous retail experience. The benefit of real-time inventory updates, supply chain efficiency, product shelf life, and intimate shopper data is appealing enough for brands to take a stab at their own autonomous store. That said, some experiences just don’t fit that mold and will forever need human interaction and education to help get shoppers over the hump. The intricacies in protecting against theft and looting are also in the early stages of development, which poses a threat against leaving a store to function on its own.

In the meantime, anticipate more hybrid experiences to set the stage for the bigger picture of an autonomous experience, as many brands take their first step with cashier-less and pick-up only stores.

Autonomous retail is not the future, it’s the present… and while brands may not be ready to fully commit just yet, consumer reception is greater than ever. 2022 will be the perfect start to a new chapter of brand experience that many of us will be a little uncomfortable with… at first.

When social experiences and dining come together, you’re bound to have a good time.
Learn more about the next wave of “Eatertainment” here.

Photo Credit: Starbucks Press

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