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Leveraging AI, Self-Serve, Vending & Robotics To Boost Shopper Convenience & Drive Operational Excellence
02/05/22

Leveraging AI, Self-Serve, Vending & Robotics To Boost Shopper Convenience & Drive Operational Excellence

In this report, the PSFK iQ research team explores the self-service tools, technologies, and applications brands and retailers are launching in order to integrate convenience and drive sales around a wide variety of products and services. Learn about the pre-, during, and post-purchase solutions that offer consumers an entirely contactless journey. From featured trends and highlighted examples, discover an approach to service that utilizes technology, robotics, and automation in order to drive maximum personalization and convenience.

Applications of classic vending and self-serve solutions are being updated with digital technology and connectivity to help brands and retailers create automated customer experiences that enhance convenience, boost personalization and drive operational efficiencies. By outfitting displays, kiosks, and even entire stores with a mixture of AI, computer vision, mobile interactivity and robotics features, retailers are empowering consumers to take greater control of their shopping experience. At the same time, these solutions provide ready access to product information, recommended selections and frictionless that prioritize ease and safety. From a brand and retailer perspective, automated systems, smart vending machines, and robotic solutions are providing opportunities to not only excite consumers and connect with them in new ways, but meet consumers where they are, whether that’s in-store, within their local neighborhoods or even their own doorsteps. 

Across the marketplace, innovative retailers are leveraging autonomous technology coupled with AI and machine learning to streamline their operations while increasing fulfillment speeds and simultaneously reduce costs.. Robotization and unmanned stores have become spectacles in themselves, giving consumers new reasons to visit . Paradoxically, reassigning time-consuming tasks to a robot is enabling store associates to deliver more customer-facing value.

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Deep Dive with PSFK’s latest report… Enhancing CX With Frictionless Retail Automation

In this report, the PSFK iQ research team explores the self-service tools, technologies, and applications brands and retailers are launching in order to integrate convenience and drive sales around a wide variety of products and services. Learn about the pre-, during, and post-purchase solutions that offer consumers an entirely contactless journey. From featured trends and highlighted examples, discover an approach to service that utilizes technology, robotics, and automation in order to drive maximum personalization and convenience.

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Insights Driving The Adoption Of The Automated Store

Shoppers think stores need to do a better job delivering unique, convenient and quality experiences.


When asked if they found store experiences fresh and innovative, 71% of US shoppers said moderately, a little or not at all.
PSFK US Automated Store Survey, February 2022 

25% of US shoppers say that in-store technology helps them enjoy the shopping experience. 30% say that it helps them spend less time shopping.
PSFK US Automated Store Survey, February 2022 

While shoppers appreciate ‘familiar’ technology as part of the retail experience, they’re not ready to relinquish complete control.

When asked about in-store technologies they think would improve the shopping experience, US shoppers prize most highly familiar technologies such as self-checkouts (47%), lockers (31%) and interactive kiosks (28%). Less than 25% of shoppers say today that robots and other robotic systems would add to the experience. 
PSFK US Automated Store Survey, February 2022 

29% of US shoppers find that in-store technology helps them find information about the products they’re looking for and 25% say that in-store tech helps them order products available online and get them shipped to their home.
PSFK US Automated Store Survey, February 2022 

US shoppers are two times more interested in self-checkout than Amazon Go style ‘grab and go’ shopping.
PSFK US Automated Store Survey, February 2022 

Automated solutions are freeing up time-limited staff to deliver value-driven interactions with shoppers on a personal, human level.

When asked if they prefer to engage with store associates or store technology, 40% of US shoppers prefer store associates and only 16% prefer only dealing with technology. 32% of shoppers don’t mind either.
PSFK US Automated Store Survey, February 2022 

Retailers and brand manufacturers have embraced automated solutions to overcome issues like staffing shortages and supply chain disruptions.

“People’s needs and expectations from brands are changing at a rapid pace. As marketers and innovators, it’s crucial that we respond to these demands. We must become more consumer centric and operator empathetic than ever before, and PepsiCo Foodservice is leading the way. Our team is leveraging cutting edge technology and testing new digital innovations that address labor shortages, on-premise safety, sustainability and more.”
Scott Finlow, Global Chief Marketing Officer, PepsiCo Foodservice

IKEA franchisee Ingka Group plans to conduct more than 80 projects to improve store fulfilment capabilities, for example using robotics, automation and drones, compared to 32 projects in FY21.
“Ingka Group looking ahead to the opportunities and challenges of retailing in 2022,” Ingka Group, December 2021 

Innovations in vending and unstaffed retail environments are creating new opportunities to connect with customers in new locations and in non-traditional ways.

While over 68% of US shoppers think that most or all stores are easily accessible for them, 31% of shoppers say some to few stores are easily accessible to them – hinting that a segment needs better access to retail experiences like vending.
PSFK US Automated Store Survey, February 2022 

PSFK US Automated Store Survey
The PSFK quantitative survey was conducted January 30-31, 2022. The audience were US smartphone users between 18 and 75 years old. The survey was a ‘basic census’ balanced in terms of age and gender. The 295 respondents had household income between $0-$200k.

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Trends Driving The Automated Store

Intuitive Displays
Automated technology providers are leveraging machine learning to create engagements that drive revenue – either through retail sales or targeted advertising.

Scan & Personalize
Vending machines and automated point of sale services are using computer vision technology to understand their shoppers better and respond with a personalized service. 

Self Sampling
Digitally-enabled kiosks and vending machines that allow potential customers to register intent through a touchscreen or mobile device to instantly receive a free trial.

Accessible Self-Serve
Driven by contactless culture and accessibility laws, retailers are developing innovative ways to help all shoppers interact safely and intuitively with automated retail system technology.

Robo Associates
Advances in technology and a lower cost of entry, have led to the adoption of robotic staff – on the shop floor, in warehouses and pick-up zones and for the completion of time-consuming tasks that free up staff to take on more customer engagements.

Kitchen In A Box
Food service is looking beyond the vending of pre-prepared meals and beverages – and is developing robotic systems that prepare and even cook food for customers on-demand.

Auto-Fulfill Footprints
Retailers are automating backend operations and fulfillment capabilities within their stores to streamline the entire shopping experience from pre-populating dressing rooms to readying items for pick-up as customers walk out the door.

High-Touch, Small-Scale
Self-serve vending solutions and mobile stores have evolved to deliver tailored assortments and unique shopping experiences that meet customers where they are, driving brand awareness and incremental sales.

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Trends in Detail

Intuitive Displays
Automated technology providers are leveraging machine learning to create engagements that drive revenue – either through retail sales or targeted advertising. By embedding features like computer vision, behavior-sensing technology, and touch screen-activated content into digital product displays, retailers are delivering a more customizable browsing experience, where additional information and product recommendation are made based on display engagement and interactions. 

Luxury mattress company Saatva is using Samsung’s display technology to create a customized shopping experience for its customers at their Washington, D.C. viewing room. Samsung’s digital signage is located alongside Saatva’s mattresses and using behavior-sensing technology, the displays guide customers on a product discovery journey, demoing and educating shoppers about the mattress’s features in real-time. As customers interact with Saatva’s products, MagicINFO’s Analytics analyzes customers behavior to display the most relevant customized content for their specific needs. The analytics also deliver meaningful performance insights that allow store managers to better understand and inform future marketing campaigns. 

Scan & Personalize
Vending machines and automated point of sale services are using computer vision technology to understand their shoppers better and respond with a personalized service. Sometimes the service tailors product selection such as beauty products based on skin type and at other times it can be used to restrict purchase – e.g. not serving minors alcohol. Outfitted with facial recognition AI, QR codes and mobile-activated services, these connected stores, kiosks and self-serve stations are powering hyper-personalized experiences within remote, contactless retail settings. 

Within beauty and skincare company Shiseido’s Tokyo flagship, customers are greeted by a number of stations that encourage product testing through touch screen questionnaires and virtual simulations. At the Digiskin Tester, customers input personal needs or concerns using a touch screen, which allows the machine to recommend skin-care products that fit their skin type. Within the Make Me Up area of the store, customers use a mirror-like touch screen to virtually apply products, and change colors without the need for testers. And at the Digital Foundation Bar, customers take a digital photo of themselves in order to find their perfect shade from among 30 options. 

Self-Sampling
As a way to promote sampling within a retail environment or other physical setting, brands are turning to digitally-enabled kiosks and vending machines that allow potential customers to register intent through a touchscreen or mobile device to instantly receive a free trial. In addition to offering new opportunities to reach audiences in a variety of locations, these unstaffed brand experiences include live media and targeting capabilities to drive greater discovery and engagement.

Freeosk’s digitally enabled free-sample kiosks deliver one-to-one interaction with a consumer through a mobile device or loyalty card, combining product merchandising with product trial. The fully contactless experience delivers product samples at more than 1,300 Walmart, Sam’s Club, and other grocery stores nationwide. 

Accessible Self-Serve
Driven by contactless culture and accessibility laws, retailers are developing innovative ways to help all shoppers interact safely and intuitively with automated retail system technology. Taking into account the visual, audio, and touch-based needs of all consumers, retailers and quick serve restaurants are rolling out in-store kiosks and vending machines that are able to provide step-by-step guidance tailored to specific needs by incorporating prompted audio recording, computer vision and motion-tracking technology. 

In response to the growing health and hygiene concerns amid the pandemic, PepsiCo created touchless screen technology that can be controlled using gestures in quick service restaurants. Without having to physically touch the screens, users can place their order simply by moving their hands near the screen. The gesture interface uses computer vision and hand-tracking technology to sense where the customer is pointing to on the menu. On average, customers were able to place their order within 40 seconds.  

Robo Associates
To keep pace with consumer expectations for on-demand delivery and efficiently handle the increasing volume of online orders being placed across a host of channels – mobile, social media, websites, chat – retailers are integrating robotic assistants into the workforce. Advances in technology and a lower cost of entry have led to a growth of mechanical servers amongst retailers–on the shop floor, in pick-up zones and for menial tasks that help staff take on more customer engagements. From microfullment operations to robot-powered warehouses and designated eCommerce fulfillment stores, autonomous technology coupled with AI and machine learning is being layered into these environments to support human employees and streamline order picking, ultimately enabling fulfillment-center operators to boost efficiency and speed up deliveries. 

Luxury department store Saks Fifth Avenue has developed a high-tech warehouse with dozens of autonomous robots programmed to help workers find items to fulfill online orders. Saks hired GXO Logistics, Inc. to operate both the robots and the facility as Saks has seen a skyrocketing number of online orders. The facility in Pennsylvania couples AI and machine learning capabilities with automated warehouse design to enable fulfillment-center operators to boost efficiency and speed up deliveries. The robots, dubbed cobots because they work with humans, are about 4 feet tall and move throughout the warehouse on wheels and are controlled through display screens. The robots are trained on Saks’ inventory and can quickly compare incoming orders, product location, and guide the employees to their location in the warehouse. From there, employees select the item and route them to the corresponding delivery bay. 

Kitchen In A Box
Food service is looking beyond the vending of prepackaged meals and beverages–and is developing robotic systems that prepare and even cook food for the customer. By partnering with robotics companies and solution providers, retailers across the food services industry digitizing their cafes and restaurants are not only creating greater efficiency across ordering processes and actual inventory, but also providing their customers with greater personalization options at scale. 

Pizza Hut designed a robotic ‘restaurant-in-a-box’ based on technology from Hyper-Robotics, an Israel-based food robotics startup that makes containerized restaurants. Located in Bnei Dror, Israel, the restaurant is self-contained and transparent so that customers are able to watch as their pizza gets made by robots. Customers place an order from the touchscreen kiosk at the restaurant, online, or through the Pizza Hut app and after the pizza is made and boxed, a human Pizza Hut employee takes the pizza from a dispensing tray and hands it to the customer. In future versions, the restaurant will be able to dispense the pizza directly to the customer without human intervention.

Auto-Fulfill Footprints
To provide consumers with a streamlined and more controlled shopping experience, retailers are automating backend operations  and fulfillment capabilities throughout their entire store – think mobile-order populated dressing rooms or touch-screen activated pickup lockers. By modeling the end-to-end physical location around fulfillment, this more personalized, service based approach to grab and go retail is helping retailers to create an efficient shopping experience for their consumer, eliminating the need for time intensive tasks typically associated with browsing, checkout and even order pick-up. 

One of China’s largest retailers, JD.com, opened two members-only robotic shops under a new brand name – Ochama – in the Netherlands. Merging online ordering and in-store pick-up into one shopping format, robots both prepare the parcels and home delivery service. Members can place an order through the mobile app to pick-up or have it delivered. Inside the Ochama store, members can watch as a fleet of robots, autonomous vehicles and robotic arms sort, pick and transfer merchandise. Shoppers can scan the app’s QR code at the checkout to watch as their items are delivered to them in a blue crate via conveyor belt. 

High-Touch, Small-Scale
Self-serve vending solutions have evolved to become an experiential tool that provides retailers and brands the opportunity to connect with consumers beyond a typical store location. These nest-gen vending experiences allow retailers and brands to show up in the places where their customers are spending their time with tailored assortments and unique service offerings. At the same time, this format is allowing retailers and brands to better understand how shoppers are interacting with them beyond the store, gauge product interest, and inform future product offerings and even development. 

On-demand automated store provider, Robomart, is helping companies to meet consumers at home through its Retailer Platform, which deploys “markets on wheels.” To place an order, consumers hail a stocked Robomart vehicle using the company’s app. Upon arrival, users open the van’s doors through the app, make their product selections, add them to their bag, and once they close the door, Robocart sends them a receipt. The contactless experience uses an RFID-based system within the Robomart vehicle that automatically charges each user’s in-app account for an instant checkout experience.

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Suppliers & Vendors

Automation & Vending

Robomart
Robomart is an American technology company and store-hailing platform headquartered in Santa Monica, California. The company has deployed automated stores on wheels that can be hailed to a customer's home. 

PopShop
PopShop is an American vending solution company that creates stand alone digital kiosks to automate retail.

Omnic Omnihub
OmniHub develops an all-in-one self-service unit for retailers in food delivery, mail services, e-commerce, or any kind of service company.

Automation & Robots 

Simbe Robotics
Simbe is an autonomous inventory management and retail intelligence solution provider that created the robot Tally using store mapping technology and a GPS.

Ocado Group
Ocado Group is a technology-led, global, software and robotics platform business that focuses on providing retailers with delivery solutions. 

Fabric
Fabric owns the infrastructure, robotics and software helps automate micro-fulfillment solutions.

Hyper Robotics
Hyper is an Israeli company that develops and builds fully autonomous, robotic fast-food stores within a boxed unit. 

Spyce
Spyce Kitchen or just Spyce is a Boston-based company that creates robotic-powered restaurants that can prepare food in three minutes or less. 

Creator
Creator is an American restaurant that automates the preparation of hamburgers and cheeseburgers from start to finish. 

Chowbotics
Chowbotics is a DoorDash-owned company that developed a fresh food robot innovation called Sally. 

Display Technology 

Samsung
Samsung is a South Korean multinational electronics company that developed display technology for Saatva, a luxury sleep brand. 

Perch
Perch is a New York-based digital shopper marketing company that creates interactive retail displays, a in-store shopper marketing analytics cloud platform, and lift and learn retail smart shelves.

Lumini
Founded by South Korean start-up LuluLab, Lumini is a smart mirror hub that uses AI beauty technology to personalize skincare recommendations based on the user’s personalized data.

Holo Industries
Holo Industries develops contactless-touch holographic products for safe interaction with self-service machines. 

Neonode
Neonode is a Swedish company providing optical sensors for contactless touch, touch, gesture control, and remote sensing. 

Service Providers 

CAV
CAV is a deep tech startup that specialises in age and ID verification services on the spot for self-service retailers. 

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Deep Dive with PSFK’s latest report… Enhancing CX With Frictionless Retail Automation

In this report, the PSFK iQ research team explores the self-service tools, technologies, and applications brands and retailers are launching in order to integrate convenience and drive sales around a wide variety of products and services. Learn about the pre-, during, and post-purchase solutions that offer consumers an entirely contactless journey. From featured trends and highlighted examples, discover an approach to service that utilizes technology, robotics, and automation in order to drive maximum personalization and convenience.