A look at top ways retail customer experience could change in 2023 and beyond.

Arguably always in flux, the shopping experience has come a long way from the days when people used to go from store to store packing groceries into a basket on their arm, and clothing was ordered from the tailor or seamstress. But we still haven’t reached the utopia that some have been predicting, when your fridge will notice that you’re running low on milk and automatically prompt the store to send more by delivery bot.

It’s not even clear that we want to live in that world. Many thought leaders predicted that the pandemic would put an end to in-store shopping and drive widespread adoption of instant grocery deliveries, but that’s proven to be unrealistic.

One recent Emarsys report found 54% of shoppers still prefer in-person retail to any other channel. In the case of food purchases, people are four times more likely to prefer buying in-person than online.

It seems most people like to see and touch products before selecting them — they just want the experience to be fast and frustration-free. New tech is helping the retail industry to make this possible. Specifically, the growing maturity of artificial intelligence has brought a number of new solutions that retailers are deploying to remove friction from the purchase experience, while still providing shoppers with the interaction they crave.

Here are some of the top ways that retail customer experience could change in 2023 and beyond:

AI transforming inventory management

The last few years saw grocery retailers get on board the digital transformation train. With the help of artificial intelligence (AI), grocers are digitalizing their entire inventory, using machine learning to quickly classify new lines and products into the appropriate categories.

But that’s just the first step. A digital, AI-powered system offers a massive range of ways to improve the shopping experience. Computer vision uses AI to recognize every product at every angle without the need for awkward scanners, making it easy for store owners to track items from warehouse to shelf, shelf to cart, and cart to checkout.

Better insight into product movements raises the bar for inventory management. With supply chains still far from predictable, projecting inventory trends before they occur gives planners the foresight they need to order products in time to meet demand.

Store leaders can create digital twins, which are virtual replicas of brick and mortar stores, and use them to monitor demand and chart top-selling (and least popular) products, to ensure they never run out of stock. Digital twins can also apply AI to model the paths that customers take through the store, and suggest optimized layouts that make it easier for shoppers to find the items they need.

Shelf tags are getting smart

With better insight into demand and real time information about stock levels, managers are introducing dynamic pricing to reduce spoilage and food waste.

The adoption of “smart” electronic shelf tags makes it possible to update prices for an entire shelf, and across a number of branches, instantly, without having to manually replace price stickers or signs.

At the same time, electronic shelf labels improve the customer experience. They are easier to read, and can display product information that goes beyond price, such as “goes well with” product pairing recommendations, nutritional information and cost per weight or volume.

Self-checkout options are multiplying

Nielsen data indicates that the number one frustration for shoppers is having to stand in long lines to checkout. Customers want to find their goods, pay, and leave, without having to wait while the person in front counts out their change in pennies or a new cashier takes ages to scan their items.

As a result, shrinking the line is a chief challenge for retailers, and a number of solutions are already in operation around the world. Smart carts use computer vision to automatically scan items when added to their cart, display a running total, and invite the customer to pay digitally when they are done.

Alternatives include smart stores with cameras mounted on the ceiling to track products using computer vision; self checkout lanes for shoppers to register and pay for goods independently; and in-store handheld scanners that connect to a checkout app.

Stores are rethinking human resources

Although stores are rapidly adopting AI use cases, they still need human employees in the store, but today, they are rethinking how best to deploy workers.

The assumption that each checkout needs a cashier, and that employees in the showroom of the store are “just” shelf stockers, is going out the window. Checkouts are increasingly becoming self-service, requiring fewer cashiers to manage a number of payment stations.

In fact, a recent Zebra Technologies survey found 43% of retail decision-makers are currently working on converting checkout cashier areas into more space for contactless checkout solutions.

Employees freed from processing purchases can then be reassigned around the store to assist customers by finding items, answering questions, and troubleshooting any issues they might encounter. Store leaders realize that shoppers want to be able to engage with a human when they have a question, and they don’t want to have to trek through the entire store until they find one.

2023 could see an improved shopping experience

Retail customer experience expectations are evolving in the post-pandemic era, and as the latest advances in tech continue to mature, retail leaders are empowered to implement new solutions.

By using AI to refine stock levels and upgrade store layouts, replacing long checkout lines with automated processes, enhancing product information on electronic shelf labels, and redeploying shop assistants to service roles, there are a number of ways that stores can deliver a smoother, more enjoyable shopping experience in 2023 and beyond.

Evyatar Ben-Shitrit is the director of innovation at Shopic

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