By Sima Nadler
Whether it’s finding those gluten-free crackers, getting the best price for sunblock, or just navigating inside the store, new technology is changing the way we shop. We can already compare prices and products using our smartphones, and soon we’ll have a cognitive, digital shopping assistant ready to answer all our questions.
This week IBM announced an augmented reality technology with Tesco, one of the world’s leading retailers, that will enable the company to do things like manage more effectively how products are displayed on shelves – ensure they are arranged according to plans that specify the best position, amount, and arrangement. This same core technology can also be used to help shoppers compare products or find what they’re looking for.
IBM scientists in the company’s research lab in Haifa, Israel, developed the solution for better managing shelf displays, based on IBM’s product recognition and augmented reality mobile shopping advisor. Tesco’s pilot will field test the new mobile solution in one of their stores outside London. Store associates will use their mobile phones or tablets to take still images of store aisles. The IBM app will then analyze the image, recognize the products currently on display, and superimpose a summary of any incorrect positioning on top of the images.
Another solution still in concept, called Virtual Stylist, will help retailers more precisely predict the clothing a customer might like, based on what would complement the current contents of his or her closet (all via an opt-in app). Rather than basing your recommendations on what others buy, retailers would know which items a customer purchased or showed interest in – either online or in the store – and tailor recommendations that complement the person’s wardrobe. Best of all, shoppers can take their purchase home that day. No waiting for the mail.And IBM’s Watson’s app development platform is already moving into this physical-virtual space. The startup, Fluid, has layered Watson on top of its Expert Personal Shopper app for retail brands. So by next year, Watson will be your personal shopping assistant. Store associates will also have similar intelligent tech providing them instant product information, customer loyalty data, sales histories, user reviews, blogs and magazines, so that when you do need to talk with another human, they know exactly how to help.
A study from IBM earlier this year shows that despite the rise of online and mobile commerce, more than 72 percent of consumers worldwide made their last purchase in a brick-and-mortar store. The trick will be to keep them coming back as consumers get more comfortable shopping online, because for retailers, competition is no longer based only on variety or price. The new playing field is all about giving customers a rich digital experience – and that’s what will drive both loyalty and success.
In short, helping retailers understand how we shop, what we like, and how we feel about products or store prices, and layouts will enrich our shopping experience and make it easier and more fun to shop smart.