Writer's Series

1. From Le Bon Marché to Amazon Go

1. From Le Bon Marché to Amazon Go

The retail store has transformed over the ages from a place where there were staff members on hand in every corner of a store to something more like an online store but in the flesh. As time has gone by, customers have become more accustomed to helping themselves, more savvy about what they want and more immune to salesmen trying to push them into purchases. We’re in a new age for the way people consume their retail experience. And with this, new technology is needed. Unmanned is the future. And this needs an alternative set of resources. More about that later. For now, we’re going to take a quick look at the evolution of the retail experience from traditional bricks and mortar to the state of the art digital we see today.

Le Bon Marché and the beginning

Back in 1830’s Paris, a relatively new concept was launched – the retail store. It sold a range of good, had a collection of twelve staff to begin with and took haggling away with fixed prices. No longer did what you pay relate directly to how well you could negotiate. The prices were clearly stated on the shelf. This was a distinct way of doing things. Parisians loved it. It took off all over the world. The brick-and-mortar store was born.

And it pretty much stayed this way until very recently…

Unmanned stores are becoming more and more popular with retailers and the public alike. There are many reasons for this, such as –

  • Cost saving for the retailer (and passing this cost saving on to the customer too).
  • The rise of the contactless lifestyle, which has been increased by the COVID pandemic.
  • Convenience of being able to shop at a time that suits the consumer.

So, let’s take a look at unmanned stores and how they operate.

What are unmanned stores?

Great question. An unmanned store allows customers more freedom and uses far less staff. There are three main types of unmanned stores –

  1. Just walk thru
  2. Hybrid
  3. Self-checkout

The first of these three is the most interesting. There are no checkouts, no queues and all of the transaction is processed virtually through the use of clever tech. Customers movements are tracked by cameras and weight sensors.

Hybrid is a mid-point between this and traditional brick and mortar stores while self-checkout allows people the option of scanning their own goods – an innovation that has been present in supermarkets globally for many years now with great success. Let’s take a look at some of the iconic stores that signal the progress of the unmanned store.

Amazon Go - The future is now

The leader of the migration away from physical retail to e-commerce have also been one of the innovators when it comes to unmanned stores. Who would have thought that all the time and effort Amazon spent on taking people away from the shopping mall would see them try to bring people back? Well, it has happened. Amazon Go stores are cropping up all over the United States. With Amazon’s track record in taking a successful model and going worldwide with it, expect to see an Amazon Go store close to you in the near future.

The model is simple. Download an app, scan your personal code as you enter, select what you want and walk out. Within seconds, you’ll get a receipt and payment is taken. Amazon does the rest with their tech and sophisticated AI models that know just what you bought. The future is always closer than you think when Amazon are involved.

Nike and the rise of experiential retail

When retailers realised that a store wasn’t just about the transaction, everything changed. One of the biggest retailers to make the most of this was Nike. Always an innovator, their Nike 000 and Nike 001 shops take traditional retail and turn it on its head. You, the customer, are in control. You get to experience the products, you can check stock levels, sizing and other details from your app (because there’s always an app, isn’t there?)

It becomes a place to spend time, hang out with friends, research what you want to buy and just become part of the Nike experience. That young, hip vibe comes through in all their products and all their marketing. It makes absolute sense that this comes though in their stores too.

Why as has this happened?

At some stage, physical retail stores needed to meet the challenge of e-commerce. Buying online is easy, convenient and now part of daily life. If physical retail stores didn’t do something different, then they would simply disappear. The cost of a brick-and-mortar location plus the rising cost of staff means that the cost base is far higher than an e-commerce rival. So, the plan became to give people what they couldn’t get online – and a large slice of what appealed so much online.

So, giving people an experience that they can’t get online plus allowing people to shop without queues is fast becoming the norm. Digitalization of physical stores is accelerating amid the trend of brick and mortar being recognized as a space to experience the products, not just for sales.

So, what is the future of unmanned stores?

There has been a recent increase in interest to unmanned stores due to the increase in labour costs of store workers and the contactless lifestyle due to COVID-19. And this means that retailers need the right support to make their unmanned store a success.

HLDS’s unmanned store technology combines the most cutting edge tch to make unmanned stores a success. This includes innovations such as facial recognition, weight sensors and people tracking to allow unmanned stores to provide just what their customers want and need. If you’re a retailer looking at how to make the most of the unmanned future, then get in touch today.

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