The retail industry is undergoing a technological makeover. Gartner estimates that global retail technology spend will be nearly US$204 billion in 2019. What’s more, 40% of US retailers are already using artificial intelligence (AI).
While retailers collect more data than ever, many are not using it effectively – they are struggling to turn it into relevant and actionable information that frontline staff can use in real time. More often than not, real-time data is either unavailable or only accessible to managers camped out in front of a computer. Typically, in-store performance data is packaged into reports and analysed days or weeks later.
While days old reports are better than nothing, they are hardly optimal. What if store managers and frontline workers could use technology to augment their day-to-day activity by discovering issues requiring attention in real time? What if this technology could notify them to take corrective action, while simultaneously training the system?
AI, specifically machine learning and computer vision, is enabling this. With intelligent cameras and AI retailers can ‘see’ practically anything, in real time. The system can be trained to look for actionable events regarding visitor traffic, queues, shelves and more.
Microsoft Azure Stack Edge services bring this intelligence to retailers. Refreshingly, set-up isn’t a massive undertaking. In many cases, stores can leverage existing camera installations. Real-time data and machine learning is turned into a retail superpower that gives managers and frontline staff a direct digital connection to customer needs. Using predictive analytics, you can even anticipate what customers might need before even they know it themselves.
In addition to intelligent cameras and sensors that collect data through observation, retailers should use the data from in-store interactive digital screens, help buttons, and other digital hardware to facilitate more responsive customer service and engagement.
Getting the backend digitisation in place gives you Clark Kent. But if you want Superman, you need the gear. Microsoft partner Turnpike has the gear store managers need to facilitate data-driven action.
Turnpike’s platform enables retailers to quickly and easily customise a wearable solution for staff. The platform triggers nudges and sends glanceable task assignments and reminders to wearables and off-the-shelf smart watches. The minimalist content ensures staff get timely contextual information that doesn’t distract. This approach has the added benefit of making retail advanced technology accessible, so retailers won’t get lost in tech for tech’s sake. Unlike most retail tech, the Turnpike solution is designed to augment innate human brainpower, not turn staff into mindless robots.
Store managers are your experienced leaders. They know how to get the most out of their staff and the idiosyncrasies of their stores. Intuitively, they can sense how the store is performing day-to-day, and know what to expect in a multitude of scenarios – for example, a payday in the middle of January. As innovative and powerful as technology can be, it’s no match for their adaptive genius.
When you customise Turnpike for your stores, keep it simple. Ask the manager which performance indicators are most important to them. Most list daily and weekly revenue targets at the top. Conversion rate and profitability probably rounds out the top three for most managers. Some of this data is already a quick lookup away, but conversion rates often arrive a day late.
Next, address the first question on a manager’s mind when their performance metrics aren’t where they should be: ‘Why?’. Have them list the key factors impacting their store’s performance. Physical retail is about customer engagement and experience, so they’ll want to know the ratio of visitors to staff, in store, in a department, at the registers and fitting rooms, etc.
A manager armed with real-time visitor tracking data and staffing by department will want to know their options for positively enabling action. Turnpike makes this easy. For example, managers look for spikes in visitor traffic that don’t follow the shift schedule. Intelligent cameras monitoring traffic will trigger a notification when pre-defined thresholds are crossed. Turnpike automatically sends a notification to the manager who can manage the situation as they want – move staff, call up staff on break early, etc. They can forward the message to staff members, asking them to help out. Data can also be used to predict long queues before they form, triggering similar notifications to managers and frontline staff.
Turnpike’s dashboard and messaging centre gives managers all that’s required to customise the system and wearables for the requirements of their store. The dashboard includes performance metrics, real-time data related to key performance factors such as visitor traffic, average queue time, customer calls for help etc., sources and status of real-time data sources (e.g. intelligent cameras, sensors and buttons), a messaging centre and a shift scheduler.
In partnership with Microsoft and integrated with Teams, Turnpike Group has already attracted the attention from heavyweights like H&M and IKEA (read more on page 104). With Turnpike, retailers can now give staff an amazing new customer engagement superpower – a sixth sense – and, at the same time, provide a highly effective tool to increase and monitor efficiency.
Carl Norberg is founder of Turnpike Group
This article was originally published in the Winter 2019 issue of The Record. Subscribe for FREE here to get the next issues delivered directly to your inbox.
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