Even before the COVID-19 pandemic led to a surge in e-commerce shopping, brick-and-mortar stores were being forced to reckon with a retail landscape in which online shopping was growing increasingly popular. Now, after a year in which consumers have enjoyed the convenience of one-click shopping and placing orders from the comfort of their own couches, e-commerce is slated to continue growing even after the pandemic ends.
Computer vision technology can help retailers eliminate the biggest brick-and-mortar pain points and redefine the in-store shopping experience to offer seamless in-store experiences by introducing autonomous capabilities, contactless checkout, and unprecedented efficiency and accuracy at every stage of the customer journey.
The Promise of AI-Enhanced Retail
Largely limited in scope until quite recently, the use of AI technologies like computer vision is rapidly increasing in the retail industry. According to a 2020 forecast by Fortune Business Insights, the global AI in retail market will spike from $2.3 billion in 2018 to $23.4 billion by 2026. Computer vision technology accounted for 23.7% of the retail AI market share in 2018 – and while only 3% of retailers had utilized the technology by 2020, 40% had plans to begin doing so within the next year.
Retailers leveraging computer vision stand to gain big, providing customers with frictionless in-store experiences, alleviating operational inefficiencies, and preventing theft. Camera systems coupled with advanced technology make it possible to identify anomalous behavior or deficiencies in batches of goods. With reams of data continuously fed into the system, engineers can create detailed and accurate predictions for how to avoid theft or how to better manage merchandise and prevent inventory shortages. A system of detection, recognition, and relay can accurately feed data back to sensors attached to shelves, bins, in-store robots, and more. The checkout line can become a thing of the past, as in-store sensors and ceiling-mounted cameras can record every item shoppers add to their carts – tabulating customers’ bills in real time before they check out and pay via a mobile app.
These capabilities can help retailers tackle customers’ biggest in-store grievances – which, according to a 2019 Capgemini survey, include long checkout queues, out-of-stock inventory, and difficulty finding sales associates to provide help. Without the need for checkout cashiers, retailers can position their employees where they’re needed the most – assisting and enhancing the consumer experience.
The New Retail Landscape
Key players in brick and mortar retail are already making this vision of smart retail a reality. At cashierless stores, customers pick the items they need from the shelves and exit the store without ever having to scan a product or stop at a cash register. This experience is underpinned by computer vision technology and deep learning algorithms that identify what items shoppers add to their bags and bill their accounts accordingly.
Independent retailers without the resources of these major corporations also have a growing number of options for integrating computer vision technology. Startups like Standard Cognition are providing AI-powered autonomous checkout capabilities, with technology that can be easily retrofitted to existing stores – making it easier for legacy retailers to adapt to the new market landscape.
Of course, that landscape is constantly evolving, which is why it’s essential for AI-based technologies to be enhanced by a human-in-the-loop approach, with human professionals providing a vital layer of quality control and agility. This will enable systems to fine-tune underlying algorithms and increase prediction accuracy. For instance, humans can validate new product brands that data sets can’t always predict on their own.
Computer vision is empowering retailers to do more with less while expediting critical business functions like shelf management, data collection, payments, and more. As the world looks toward a post-pandemic normal and the gradual return of more and more shoppers to brick-and-mortar stores, retailers’ performance will hinge on their ability to adapt to market shifts and provide customers with the streamlined, friction-free experiences they’ve come to expect. In computer vision technology, stores have a powerful ally in that mission.
Eran Shlomo, CEO and Co-Founder, Dataloop
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