Technology in Shopping
There’s no doubt that technology has been changing the way we shop for a number of years. Companies such as Blockbuster and Woolworths who were unable or unwilling to keep up with the pace of change fell by the wayside, whereas tech embracing companies such as Amazon and ASOS have thrived.
The pandemic accelerated this shift in shopping habits by necessity – in March 2020 across the globe non-essential retail closed its doors and from April to June online shopping saw a 100% increase. Even stores that were allowed to continue to open such as DIY and supermarkets saw a massive increase in click and collect or online ordering – so much so that the major supermarkets’ delivery systems collapsed leading to long wait times to even access the shopping sites and no delivery slots. Some retailers, such as Primark, stayed well away from the online offering, preferring to close stores and not trade rather than give partial service.
Whilst this has abated somewhat with the gradual easing of lockdown and the supermarkets increasing their online presence (Sainsburys targeted double capacity to 700,000 orders by end Oct 2020) the pace of technology changing our shopping habits is continuing.
Even prior to the pandemic, online fashion retailers, such as ASOS were taking footfall from the high street. Their offering of easy to select, easy to try-on and easy to return made ordering parcels to home or work much more appealing than trekking around high streets in the hope that your style and size were in stock. This is particularly relevant for those who are body conscious or socially anxious who would find high street shopping too stressful. In 2019 ASOS’s revenue was £2,733.5 Million and during the pandemic rose to £3,263.5 million. Debenhams that was unable to adapt to the change in shopping habits failed on the high street but now has a new lease of life after having being bought by Boohoo for £55 million adding the name to other failed high street retailers such as Karen Millen and Coast.
But, apart from the ease of online ordering, how else is tech changing the way we shop.
Amazon now has 4 Fresh stores across London (White City, Canary Wharf, Wembley Park and Ealing) following the same format as the 29 Amazon Go stores in the US.
The premise is simple. You log in to your Amazon account and generate a QR code to enter. You do your shopping and you walk out. The Amazon Technology uses “computer vision, sensor fusion and deep learning” to calculate what you have purchased and automatically deducts it from your Amazon payment method. This ease of shopping eliminates queues and helps with the get them in get them out approach to mass shopping, but there are drawbacks.
If you pick an item up, you are charged for it, even if you give it to someone else or dump it elsewhere in store (this might make the stores tidier as people are less likely to just dump things as they change their mind!) but there is no way of informing Amazon that you have not been charged for something – this accidental shoplifting is built in to the bottom line of the company. Deliberate shoplifting is another story and the technology is supplemented (we believe as Amazon are keeping this top secret) with store detectives.
Prime Now / Getir
The Amazon Fresh stores are an extension of Amazon’s online grocery offering. With their own depots and their link-up with Morrisons, Amazon are able to provide a wide variety of groceries with a 2 hour delivery slot the same day (in most cases). If that is too long for you to wait, other companies such as Getir and Gorilla will deliver essentials within minutes. Whilst this is limited to certain products and certain postcodes, the online grocery retailers are expanding in such a way that the trip to the corner shop is fast becoming a thing of the past. But are people really prepared to pay for the premium of having a tub of Haagen-Daaz delivered so they don’t have to pause their Netflix binge? Investors think so – with Dija raising $20 million in funding in December and Getir seeking $500 million in investment all before turning any profit.
Virtual Fitting Rooms
Definitely something that has been accelerated during the pandemic, but virtual fittings rooms were already in use in some high street retailers such as Macys and Adidas in the US. The use of augmented reality allowing you to see how the trainers look on you or whether the bling suits you has been shown to reduce return rates by up to 36%. Adding to this technology that allows you to see virtual cat-walk models such as with Zara’s Augmented Reality app, the high street is getting in on the tech action and taking some of the online retail market back.
Whether it’s scanning a QR code to enter the shop (such as with Amazon Fresh) or checking in for Covid requirements to storing your loyalty card on your phone and scanning the QR code at the till, the use of QR codes has increased with 80% of smartphone users saying they had scanned a QR code at least once. The future of QR codes could expand to them being a valid payment method from your mobile device.
Buying glasses is a complicated process. There are so many different styles and shapes that don’t suit everyone’s faces. Spending time in store trying them on is not pleasurable or possible for everyone so using VR to virtually try glasses on saves a lot of time and hassle – and can be done from your work desk or in the evenings – getting other opinions on what style suits you best. With Specsavers Virtual try-on, the website scans your face using your webcam or phone camera, gives suggestions on frames that may suit and allows you to virtually try them all on – without the need for the glasses to be sanitised before the next person tries them on.
So the march towards an increased tech in shopping continues, with more and more people turning to online retailers, but the high street is fighting back by using tech to entice people in to the stores and make them more of a destination.
In researching this article, I decided to pay my local Amazon Fresh store a visit in Canary Wharf. I went on a quiet Thursday afternoon, scanned my QR code and entered the store. There was an abundance of colleagues present on the shop floor to assist with queries – the benefit of not having them stuck on checkouts I guess. I asked a colleague what happens if I decide I don’t want what I have selected and she reliably informed me that as long as I put it back where I got it from I wouldn’t be charged – so I tried it with a small item and she was right – I wasn’t charged for it.
The store was clean, well-maintained and I was surprised at the amount of fresh and bakery items available. Also surprising was the Amazon labelled products alongside Morrisons and branded products, particularly in the fresh aisle. There is a meal deal available and hot food as well as a focus on plant-based and non-meat varieties. Prices were a little higher than you would expect to pay in a supermarket – the items that I bought ranged from 7-20p more expensive than I would normally pay, but this could either be the premium for the location or for the ease of not having to queue and pay at a checkout. Not having checkouts also increased the amount of floor space dedicated to products so there was a really good range of items for a small store. This does though have the effect that you don’t know where the shop ends. My receipt appeared in my account 15 mins after I left the store and was accurate.
Would I return? Yes definitely.
Would it be my first choice? Probably not – the higher prices would make it not my first supermarket of choice, but if I was in a rush and there was a queue at the supermarket I would go.