Customer Experience is a pivotal factor differentiating businesses in today’s highly competitive marketplace. Imagine going grocery shopping just a few days before the holy month of Ramadhan, where customers, including yourself, will share a common frustration of waiting in long and tiresome queues. This frustration has become the norm and resonates with almost all customers shopping in different retail segments. However, the COVID-19 pandemic encouraged businesses and consumers to embrace and adopt new digital behaviors, introducing recent shopping trends. These shopping trends made it necessary for retailers to adapt to the technologies and new concepts that would satisfy the consumers’ changing needs. Studies have shown that 41% of consumers are willing to pay more for a product if they can purchase it quickly and conveniently . This high percentage suggests that it became necessary to reduce the friction within the retail experience, therefore introducing frictionless stores.
In our fast-paced, always-on-the-go society, friction slows things down. Just take a moment and think about how amazing it would be if you could enter a store, pick up your favorite products, and then walk out. This is what frictionless stores are all about: effortlessly finding the products or services you need by removing anything that could hinder a seamless transaction. Additionally, always be alerted that it is mainly about the customers and how to enhance their experience.
Patience is a luxury that not so many people can afford, and most people hate waiting in long queues to check out, and I am sure many of you can relate. If we compare the experience of shopping in a grocery store versus a frictionless store, the focus will be on how the customer feels when leaving the store and the time spent waiting. With a frictionless store, we always have the advantage of knowing the exact price of a product right away. In comparison, when visiting a grocery store, there are times when we require assistance because certain products do not have price tags. The last thing a customer wants is to approach the checkout counter and be taken aback by the cost of the product, subsequently exceeding the budget, ultimately leading to frustration. We may have to stand in a queue with a grocery store, which could lead us to leave the store even if we require the products because we do not have the time to wait for extended periods. On the other hand, with frictionless stores, we can get all the products needed without having a checkout process slow us down. Thus, the equation is pretty much straightforward:
Frictionless = Happy Customer + Less Time and Effort
Friction = Frustrated Customer + More Time and Effort
Studies have shown that 82% of retail executives believe smart checkout is one of the most critical technologies over the next five years . This changes the whole retail game and increases the applications of frictionless stores. The best-known application is retail – and it is widely spread in grocery stores. The application can also be extended to libraries, where borrowing books from public or school libraries can be expedited. Frictionless technology can be utilized even in self-service kiosks and vending machines for widely offered commodities, even if there is no store.
Amazon developed a technology, Just Walk Out (JWO), enabling customers to shop in their usual manner while saving time and effort. This translates to no waiting in lines, no scanning of products, and no unnecessary hassle. Over 50 Amazon stores and more than a dozen third-party customers, ranging from retail to sports and entertainment segments, have adopted this technology . Hudson, a travel retailer, is one of the most famous 3rd party clients that adopted JWO.
The technologies used may differ among various types of frictionless stores, depending on the size of the store. The key technologies used are Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML), Computer Vision, Sensor Fusion, Internet of Things (IoT), Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) Tags, Biometrics and Facial Recognition, and Mobile Applications. To enter the store, customers are required to have a mobile application. During the shopping process, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and computer vision are used to understand consumers’ behavior and recognize instances of shoplifting. Computer vision and facial recognition technologies are used to identify customers and detect their actions of picking up or returning products on the shelves. To aid in detecting when an item has been taken or put back from the shelve, Sensor Fusion, and RFID tags are used. Once these actions are recognized, the virtual cart in the mobile application will be automatically updated. IoT ensures that the gates do not open when leaving the store unless the payment transaction has been completed.
The technologies utilized in frictionless stores not only enhance the customer experience, but also assist in store operations. For example, sensor fusion can be leveraged to activate alerts for the staff whenever products require restocking. On the other hand, one of the concerns when using frictionless stores is data privacy. Large amounts of user data must be fed into the machine learning algorithms for the store to work as intended. This could lead to data misuse or make it susceptible to attacks. It is necessary to integrate development, security, and operations to solve these security issues and eliminate any vulnerabilities. Amazon improved the reliability of JWO by building an architecture where data is processed and computed locally instead of in the cloud. This reduces the amount of data sent over the internet, reducing the chances of security attacks.
At this point, you may be wondering why shopping in frictionless stores is better than indulging in online shopping. In my opinion, while it is convenient for a customer to make purchases online, most shoppers prefer to physically inspect and interact with products before making a purchase. This preference consequently leads to an increased demand for physical stores. By transforming a regular and traditional store into a more advanced and technologically sophisticated establishment, we not only enhance the shopping experience for customers but also gain enough information to personalize the entire experience for each customer. Research has demonstrated that customers are loyal to brands that remember their preferences and implementing personalization strategies substantially improves conversion rates.
Article by: Walaa Radhi, IT Development Specialist
|||O. Ozturk, E. Taylor, C. Smart and J. Tolmie, “Frictionless retal – The future of shopping,” PwC, 2022.|
|||Zebra Technologies, “2021 Shopper Study Volume 1: The Essential Shopper Experience: Safety, speed and convenience,” Zebra Technologies, 2021.|
|||M. Zampani, “Elevate your retail experience with Just Walk Out technology,” 04 08 2022. [Online]. Available: https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/industries/elevate-your-retail-experience-with-just-walk-out-technology/.|