Physical shops and malls can complement e-commerce with self disruption using video management software, robotics and facial and object recognition technologies.

As more e-commerce players providing consumers with a never-ending stream of consumer goods, right to their doorstep, shoppers are increasingly spoilt for choice. However, is there more to the shopping experience besides mere transactions?

With the e-commerce industry in Singapore projected to show an annual growth of 14.9% and reaching a market volume of US$8,549 million by 2023, brick-and-mortar retailers are increasingly feeling the pressure to outdo their online competitors. However, many physical retailers do not realize that they have an advantage that their online counterparts do not—the appeal to human senses.

With e-commerce players offering convenience as their advantage, it is imperative for physical retailers to re-analyze their unique offerings that their e-commerce counterparts do not possess—the see, touch and feel showroom experiences.

Beyond just transactions, the shopping experience itself is essentially an effective drawing point. This is evident even amongst e-commerce giants, such as Amazon and Taobao, who have seen value in investments towards brick-and-mortar storefronts. With digital disruption impacting all industries, ‘old school’ retailers must keep in-step with Industry 4.0 or be swept away by irrelevancy.

Retail store owners need to understand their value proposition to consumers and leverage their strengths, through the use of technologies available at their fingertips. These smart technologies & solutions inaugurate experiential shopping experiences and just make good shopping and well rationalized business sense.

Consumer experience is key

Taking an experiential approach to appeal to shoppers can be seen as a two-pronged approach—namely, appealing to shoppers through a sensory storefront experience as well as providing them a seamless shopping process, through the optimization of retail operations and processes at the back end.

Such implementations can be seen in Singapore’s recently developed futuristic malls, including Design Orchard and Funan DigitaLife Mall, which feature smart technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and data analytics. These malls feature state-of-the-art video technologies that interact directly with shoppers and take the shopping experience to a whole other level. For example, Design Orchard features high-tech smart mirrors and an interactive display table that presents useful information on various products. 

Separately, Funan Mall features retailers who provide immersive experiences for their customers through virtual reality pods that feature various games and cinema experiences. Funan also has plans to launch an automated click-and-collect service that will allow shoppers to fetch their purchased items with the help of a centralized robotic arm.

Optimizing retail processes and operations

Behind the scenes, the adoption of AI and data analytics not only help retailers provide shoppers with a seamless shopping experience, but also provide them with actionable insights that can improve customer satisfaction and over time, and reduce costs.  

These tools can be effectively harnessed through technologies such as Video Management Software (VMS)—a key component that holds video capabilities together. Acting as an open platform, it allows various components, such as AI and data analytics, to be brought together into a unified solution. 

Beyond important roles that VMS can play, including core functions such as preventing theft and protecting staff and shoppers, it also helps retailers capture and understand valuable business data. These include footfall, shopper movement, performance benchmarks, as well as product attraction and conversion. Every element of a store’s design and layout can be captured on video and then analyzed, scrutinized and reconfigured in a VMS to help offer customers the best possible shopping experience and thus increase sales.

For example, retailers equipped with VMS can map the movement of consumers as they shop within the premises, to attain deep insights into their behavior. The system can also optimize aspects such as employee movement and deployment as well as automate air conditioning, heating or ventilation.

Funan has already utilized AI and data analytics to better understand consumer shopping habits and preferences—the mall provides shoppers with customized recommendations through a smart directory that leverages on facial recognition (FR).

Integrated with a VMS, FR technology can recognize individuals through their facial features and bring up unique and tailored information. Other practical applications for retailers include the recognition of VIP shoppers. In the near future, you might walk into your local car dealership for a servicing appointment and have all the paperwork ready for you at the desk, before you even get there. Or even walking into a coffee shop and getting your regular order without having to wait in the queue. 

Taking the seamless customer experience further, recognition of car registration plates works similarly to FR—with cameras being able to recognize the number plates, visitors can easily find their parked vehicle with the aid of such technologies. One of the unique features of the Funan mall is its carpark, where visitors can now reserve their parking lots via an app and are guided to their reserved lots by the mall’s video-based smart car parking facility. 

These possibilities are merely scratching the surface of open platform VMS capabilities and value adding to shoppers and businesses—providing the freedom to add new technologies as they are developed, beyond just mere surveillance.

It is never too late for brick-and-mortar retailers to start looking at these digital capabilities and infrastructure, to future-proof themselves and ensure they remain relevant to the modern consumer. In fact, it is crucial that these businesses pursue their digital transformation journeys, in order to stay afloat.