Five of the smartest retail stores in the world
Imagine walking into a changing room, using a smart mirror to switch between different outfit combinations that have been picked just for you, sending automatic pictures of options to get opinions from friends and family – all while a robot assistant offers advice and answers any questions you might have.
Does this sound a bit like science fiction? These sorts of technologies are already being used in tech-savvy stores around the world, with even more innovations since the outbreak of COVID-19.
For today’s blog post, we’ve picked five of the most innovative stores using smart technologies to change the way we shop.
1. Amazon Go and Amazon Fresh
Amazon has already revolutionized the online shopping experience. If this wasn’t enough, the tech giant is now looking to take a slice of the physical retail pie too, with its Go and Fresh stores.
They use a combination of computer vision, deep learning, and sensor fusion technology to automate the payment and checkout process. This means that customers can enter the store, pick up the items they want, and leave without queuing or checking out, while payment is automatically made through the Amazon Go app.
Integrated Alexa devices placed around the store help shoppers navigate their way and check off items on their Alexa Shopping List as they go. Pretty smart, eh?
Amazon now operates at least 28 Fresh stores across the US, including 14 in California, six in Illinois, three in Washington State and two in Virginia. The first UK store opened in Ealing in March 2021 and there are now 17 stores across London, with the first shop outside of London opening soon.
No one knows exactly what Amazon’s next move will be, but we think it’s safe to say that they will continue to embrace the latest technology to stay ahead of the curve.
- Want to give Amazon’s tech a Go? (Pardon the pun.) Find your nearest store here
2. Burberry’s social retail store
The summer of 2020 saw the opening of Burberry’s first ‘social retail’ store in China’s tech capital, Shenzhen.
It’s full of smart technology, including immersive fitting rooms, multisensory experience areas, and an interactive digital window at the entrance – inspired by the mirrored runway from the Burberry AW20 show.
Users can interact with a custom mini-programme within the ‘WeChat’ app to book appointments, learn more about certain products and share their own user-generated content (UGC). And as they do this, they accumulate a virtual social currency, which can be used to hatch and grow an animal character.
Burberry’s vision of ‘social retail’ definitely feels like a glimpse of the future, with gamification used to drive customer engagement.
Now it’s so convenient for us to shop online, brands need to find innovative ways to drive customers to bricks-and-mortar stores. And this store definitely succeeds – we’re tempted to head to Schenzhen to see the tech in action!
3. Hema Fresh
Another retailer in China making use of smart technology is Hema Fresh. The aim of the supermarket is to combine elements of online and offline shopping to create the ultimate customer experience.
In store, customers can scan QR codes on products to get more information – including the exact date food items were harvested, sourced, and delivered. Payment can be made through the Hema app, making shopping nice and convenient.
There’s also a cool in-store dining experience, which is quite literally powered by robots. Customers can use the Hema app to book a seat and order their food, then robots move items from the shelves to the kitchen and deliver meals when they’re ready.
It was recently announced that Hema will be collaborating with 1,000 villages to rejuvenate China’s farming sector, purchasing $15.7 billion worth of produce from farmers over the next five years.
The initiative will help farmers to select crops for cultivation and establish sales agreements with fixed purchase prices. And once produce is delivered directly to Hema’s stores, customers will be able to see its local origins, along with recommended recipes.
- We love seeing tech being used for good – check out our blog post exploring IoT enabled devices that are creating a more equitable world
4. Lush’s app-first stores
Next on our list of tech-powered shops is Lush’s anchor store in Harajuku, Japan.
It is solely dedicated to the sale of its many different bath bombs, displayed in all shapes, colours and sizes, on shelves and conveyor belts around the space. It’s completely packaging free, or ‘naked’ as Lush likes to call it, and we have to say it’s certainly very Instagrammable.
Shoppers are invited to select bath bombs that appeal to them by scent, visual appeal, or both, and then scan the product with the Lush Lens – a feature of the #LushLabs app. This reveals everything you need to know about its ingredients, properties and benefits, as well as a video showing how it will dissolve in your bathtub.
Lush isn’t just pushing the boundaries of retail in Japan, they’re making waves around the world with stores that are truly destinations worth visiting.
Just last month, they opened a 24-hour vending machine in Coal Drops Yard, London. It provides an attractive 360 degree display and allows shoppers to buy products at any time of the day or night. Don’t blame us if we end up venturing over there on our lunch break to check it out…
5. M&S’s in-queue checkout
M&S became the first UK food retailer to incorporate on-the-spot payment in its stores in late 2020.
‘Pay With Me’ allows customers with a small number of items to check out with a M&S staff member while they are queuing, rather than having to wait for a self-service or manned till to become available.
This technology has been rolled out to 200 stores so far as part of its wider effort to make shopping at their brick-and-mortar stores more efficient and convenient.
The British retailer has also recently opened a new concept store at the Roaring Meg retail park in Stevenage, with wine tasting, ‘Fill Your Own’ stations and ‘Scan & Shop’ technology.
Another great use of tech is M&S’ collaboration with Neighbourly. Together, they’ve made an app that records when M&S colleagues reduce food that’s close to its use by or best before date, and then monitors if those products are sold at the tills.
The app automatically connects with the Neighbourly platform to notify its community partners of anything unsold at the end of the day, so that it can be collected from their local store.
Less food waste, discounted food – what’s not to love!
- Looking to become more sustainable? Get five tips for getting started on your net zero journey
Retail stores of the future
Brick-and-mortar retailers face stiff competition from online shops, but by embracing the latest in retail technology, they can actually use their physical presence to their advantage.
Tech-savvy companies around the world are leading the way by offering increasingly immersive experiences, using a range of smart technologies like augmented reality (AR) and artificial intelligence (AI) and holograms.
The future of retail is all about using technology to create experiences that are seamless, personal, engaging and perhaps most importantly – memorable.