Over the past few years, the retail space has seen a rapid expansion of technological advancement as consumers and employers alike have begun to embrace the latest tools and trends. In fact, nearly three-quarters of retailers are planning to increase technology spending in the next 12 months, according to Total Retail’s 2019 Retail Technology Report.
Among the myriad of emerging technology in the retail space, one advancement — automated supply distribution — is likely to experience strong adoption over the coming year. Automated supply distribution, which is distributing products and essential supplies via automation technology, joins on the wings of other retail tech innovation, such as Amazon’s checkout-free stores and Kroger’s move towards a trial of autonomous grocery delivery service.
The benefits of automated supply distribution are twofold, providing ease of experience for both customers and retail employees: A smart vending machine in a retail store, for example, can improve the experience for customers and secure high-value items, while a machine in the back-end workplace of a retailer can distribute equipment or supplies that retail employees need in order to do their jobs.
This technology has a few key markers that put it on the map to become a top retail trend in 2020, including meeting consumer demands to improve experience, maximizing loss prevention efforts and streamlining internal processes for retail employees.
Keeping pace with consumer trends to improve customer experience
Consumers are constantly adapting their preferences and looking for more convenient ways to shop. They want their purchases instantly, delivered to their homes, accessible outside of business hours or bought via the click of a button. A recent survey from SOTI reveals that nearly three-quarters of consumers are in favor of self-service technologies to improve the retail shopping experience and reduce staff interactions. Automated supply distribution offers a a solution-based opening for retailers to capitalize on product purchasing convenience, and a chance to expand sales outside of typical retail store hours. A retailer can leverage customizable smart vending machines and lockers to stay operational at all times and provide consumers with instant access to what they need, when they want it. After-hour purchases are captured by down-to-the-minute software and allow retailers to track and chart every ounce of data produced by the machine.
Many shoppers are also seeking cashless payment methods. Automated vending technology can ensure that buyers receive an uncomplicated, smooth and quick shopping experience while using a card, tap or other simple payment process to acquire their products. Paired with a machines’ in-depth data tracking, retailers can understand and better adapt to customer habits as a direct result of real-time statistical input. Automated vending machines can also be placed strategically to encourage customers to try new products, offer shoppers the convenience of picking up necessities in one swoop or positioned to mitigate foot traffic and ensure shoppers are guided wherever the retailer wants them to move toward in store. Refreshing and updating onsite experience is critical to meeting the ever-changing demands of shoppers. Automated supply vending machines provide one avenue towards meeting evolving customer demands.
Protecting high-value items
Product loss and theft are an important consideration in retail, especially for retailers who sell physical goods in a storefront with frequent external customers. Automated supply distribution provides an efficient way to secure products, particularly those higher-value commodities that may currently live in a lock-case. Items that would normally need to be locked away in safety cases can instead be placed into smart vending machines or locker systems, cutting out the time and effort it would ordinarily take employees to continually unlock and re-lock the case each time a customer wants to look at whatever is enclosed. For example, a customer could purchase a high-value item at the cashier, and then scan their receipt into the smart distribution station to retrieve the item they paid for on their way out. This eliminates the added step of having an employee unlock and retrieve a high-value item and allows the customer an efficient shopping experience.
Placing higher-value products into smart stations not only reduces wait time so shoppers get what they need quicker, but it also lowers the risk of theft. Higher-value items are safe in the machine and each product is tracked leveraging advanced software to provide a high-level view of demand. Smart vending and locker systems can even help retailers with theft on the back end of operations, as automated supply vending allows employers to track where valuable company supplies are, like laptops or company cell phones, and creates a strong sense of internal security.
Streamlining back-end operations
In tandem with improving the customer experience, automated supply distribution also makes the workplace more productive for retail employees, whether in the corporate office or a local storefront. Smart locker systems or vending machines can be used to store essential equipment, such as product scanners, for retail employees and ensure workers are using and returning their supplies each day. Behind-the-scenes software can give managers a high-level view of supply lending patterns among employees as well as a more accurate way to track supply costs back to each department.
From an IT perspective, important supplies for corporate employees such as laptops, keyboards or dongle cords can be stored in smart distribution stations to streamline technology needs and save productivity hours. Time spent waiting for new supplies or an IT team member to fix a broken laptop can be allotted to other more productive tasks, making essential supplies readily available for workers via a smart station.
Keeping track of the latest technological advancements and understanding how they can help business thrive is essential for retail leaders. Automation and vending innovation can shape the customer experience on the front-end and bring efficiency to back-end operations for employees. Focusing on creative and flexible digital solutions that cater to both consumer wants and internal workplace needs will lead to productive business practices, and ultimately, satisfied shoppers and employees.