Smart Shopping: The Digital Revolution Reaches Stores

Sabine Berger Autorin, Hemd & Hoodie

Stores are increasingly using digital technologies to provide customers with a “smart” experience when they go shopping.

The Internet has been irrevocably changing the way we shop for many years now. But the daily barrage of new online shops and personalized advertisements are not the only indicators of the ongoing digitalization in this industry. Physical stores are also discovering the possibilities of networked technologies – and want to use them to transform traditional retail into a smart and personalized shopping experience.

For example, the British pharmacy and cosmetics chain Boots has announced that it will publish a new version of its app this year that will allow customers to use location-based services. When they enter a Boots store, users who have the app installed on their smartphone will receive a personalized push notification with offers based on their previous purchases saved in the app.

The Fine Line Between Service and Privacy

By launching the new version of the app, Boots is aiming to offer its customers a more convenient, more personalized – and, of course, more enticing – shopping experience in its stores. However, the company is conscious of the fact that there is an extremely fine line between an improved customer experience and an information overload – with data protection another major consideration. “We will not be bombarding people or frightening people so they think, ‘woah, they know we are in store’,” says Vicky Dring, a senior product manager at Boots.

Apps are offering retail customers an ever increasing number of advantages.
Apps are offering retail customers an ever increasing number of advantages. Image: Google Play – Boots – montage

However, no further details are available on how the new service would actually work. For example, potential users may wonder whether they will be asked for their consent before using the service, or whether it will be automatically activated as soon as they update the app. There are also no exact details regarding how far the customer needs to be from the store before the app detects them. It would be interesting to know whether customers receive the notifications even if they’re just walking past the store or standing at a nearby bus stop.

Customers as Living Passwords

Protecting your privacy and personal data also poses a great obstacle when it comes to efforts to digitalize payment systems. In order to promote the use of innovative technologies, manufacturers are constantly developing new processes that offer a higher level of security. The British supermarket chain Costcutter recently started using a system in their branch at Brunel University in London that allows students to pay by scanning their finger.

The scanning technology, Fingopay, was developed by Sthaler and uses infrared light to detect the vein pattern in a person’s finger. The biometric data is linked to the user’s account information, which allows them to perform future transactions by scanning their finger. This process is intended to be much more secure than conventional fingerprint technologies and has already been used successfully for several years by business customers, including at Barclays Bank. Costcutter is contemplating using the finger scanning system in other branches in the future. Sthaler has also indicated that it is in serious talks with other supermarket chains.

Fingopay allows customers to pay using their unique vein pattern.
Fingopay allows customers to pay using their unique vein pattern. Image: Fingopay – (montage)

Intel is also advancing the imminent revolution in physical stores with a large portfolio of retail technologies, ranging from mobile point-of-sale devices to comprehensive IT platforms that connect sensory data collected in store with the latest analytic tools. For example, Tally is an autonomous stocktaking robot that moves between the shelves checking stock levels, detecting products that have been placed in the wrong position, and identifying incorrect price information. Intelligent networking means that the physical and digital worlds of retail can be linked and ensures that customers enjoy a more convenient and personalized experience when they go shopping.

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