As more than 1,000 retail tech companies from around the world showcased their latest innovations at NRF 2024: Retail’s Big Show in New York last week, here is Retail Week’s round-up of the groundbreaking technology revealed at the Expo.
From AI-powered shop assistants to checkout innovations and lifelike robot dogs, technology stole the show at NRF 2024: Retail’s Big Show.
With innovations for solving common issues for retailers, such as criminal activity, staff efficiency and processes within stores, here is our pick of the tech set to shape the future for retailers far and wide.
AI-powered digital humans was just one of the new and shiny innovations at the Big Show showcased by technology giant Samsung as part of its bid to “bridge the online and bricks-and-mortar world”.
Samsung presented its “hyper-realistic virtual beings,” developed by its AI research lab.
Retailers will be able to deploy the digital humans via Samsung kiosks, tablets and displays to talk to customers, make recommendations and finalise transactions via a live chat function.
David Phelps, head of display division at Samsung Electronics America, said the use of AI offers a two-fold solution for retailers. He called the AI-powered digital humans a “game changing” technology and added that they are likely to help fill in gaps across the workforce, allowing employees to prioritise operational and customer service roles.
The use of AI-powered digital humans is also likely to relieve pressure on retailers when it comes to increased demand and processing orders.
As the customer experience becomes more important than ever, Samsung claims that this technology helps maintain consistency and will keep customers feeling satisfied and prioritised with the services they receive, regardless of whether that comes from a real or AI-powered human.
With a notable upsurge in shoplifting last year and the growing need for retailers to crack down on criminals, the robotic security dogs from AT&T might just be the answer.
The ‘man’s best friend’ of the tech world can perform in all terrains and is equipped with sensors and facial recognition software so that it can operate without human intervention.
With additional features, such as mechanical arms that can carry materials, ‘pick and pack’ capabilities for warehouse tasks, and the ability to climb stairs and ‘swim’ when necessary, these dual-purpose robots could be the future of minimising security woes while increasing fulfilment efficiency behind the scenes.
American financial and retail tech giant Diebold Nixdorf debuted its AI-based checkout technology at the Big Show.
A company powering transactions for more than 150 retailers globally, Diebold Nixdorf’s latest AI-powered tech is designed to attack retail shrinkage issues and prevent the most common types of stock loss at self-service and traditional checkout stations.
Diebold Nixdorf attributed poor experiences and the need for human intervention as some of the biggest deterrents for consumers as they seek a seamless and improved checkout experience.
Known as Vyanamic Smart Vision, the tech is set to combat some of the most common sources of revenue loss and friction for retailers at self-checkouts, including theft and false barcode issues.
It also uses consumer-facing cameras to verify ages of shoppers privately and in less than 10 seconds, faster than the current industry average of three minutes, and will speed up the scanning process of products priced by weight or quantity.
Finally, camera-enabled computer vision and “extensively trained algorithms” will help prevent misidentified items from leaving the store – additional protection for retailers’ profit margins.
VusionGroup, formerly known as SES-imagotag, showcased its new digital shelf system, which aims to “reinvent the shelf-edge”.
After “more than 10 years of research”, VusionGroup’s EdgeSense technology is ready to help employees work smarter through precise tracking of products, personalised in-store navigation for both staff and shoppers, as well as guided in-store fulfillment and replenishment straight from the shelves.
The EdgeSense digital shelf system can sense in-store stock hotspots, transmitting data from the shop aisles regarding stock levels, product popularity and customer behaviours, direct to staff.
“Today, we introduce the very first digital shelf system for physical commerce, thanks to a decade of deep innovation and research in smart rails and labels,” said group chief technology officer Andreas Rössl at the Expo.
“EdgeSense reinvents the shelf-edge through its cutting-edge capabilities in a unique, sustainable way.
“With this new solution, we are proud to be once again at the forefront of retail tech innovation and to provide our customers with technologies for a positive commerce.”
London-based Zebra Technologies was at the Big Show to demonstrate the world’s smallest wearable mobile computer, offering “unparalleled functionality” to workers.
A device mirroring the look of a smartwatch, it allows staff to find all the data they need from their wrist, including the use of integrated barcode scanners and a voice communications system.
The industry’s first wrist and clip wearable touch computer can also be worn in two other ways and has been designed to be lightweight, comfortable and practical. It provides a hands-free solution for staff across manufacturing plants, warehouses and stores alike.
Plus, its low power consumption gives it a performance edge against other products on the market since battery life won’t be a problem for workers. And, by reducing the steps and time taken to complete tasks, this ‘smartwatch’ is sure to be a hit with retailers looking to boost efficiency.
Google Cloud was another AI-powered virtual assistant showcased by the tech giants at NRF 2024, but with a twist.
The new AI-powered virtual agents are being launched across Google’s websites and mobile apps, and can be built by the retailers themselves to have what Google describes as “more natural” conversations with shoppers.
The agent is on-hand to help customers find what they’re looking for, whether it’s formalwear for a special occasion or beachwear for a holiday, as well as providing bespoke options such as colours, venue types, weather and budgets, for example.
Google claims that 81% of retail decision-makers feel an “urgency” to adopt generative-AI technologies, with 72% being ready to deploy the AI this year.
One differentiating point for the virtual agents is that they can be deployed within a few weeks, making the technology relatively seamless to implement; it has habitually taken months to launch previous and other versions of this type of AI.
Amy Eschliman, retail industry solutions managing director at Google Cloud, said that this use of AI has gone from what was a barely known concept a year ago to an urgently needed answer for retailers in today’s market.
She added that while 2023 was an experimentation period for retailers, the introduction of generative-AI is sure to ramp up this year.
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