Retail

Retailers Use Kiosks, AI, Pick-Up Portals to Attract Millennials

Create: 08/21/2017 - 20:00
retail IoT trends

Photo: Uniqlo UMood

 

The days of an Amazon drone or a self-driving robot from Starship Technologies delivering goods to a buyer’s doorstep are just around the corner. But how quickly the majority of shopping will move online is still up for debate. In fact, a recent report from Intel says that according to accounting firm EY, in the next three years online shopping will only account for 19 percent of transactions, the majority of purchases will still be made in brick and mortar shops.

This means that brick-and-mortar is here to stay, as least in the near term. But as brands close thousands of locations across the country, the retailers of the future are designing a new breed of store. The new generation of digital natives doesn’t want to browse dusty shelves in search of their purchases. The millennial shopper wants a smart store, one that caters to people accustomed to online shopping.

What does that mean for your retail customers? You now need to focus on the shopping experience, adding a dose of IoT and other technology to up the game. “Physical retail spaces need to focus on facilitating experiences that can’t be replicated in an online setting,” said Shepherd Laughlin, a trend forecaster at research group J. Walter Thompson Intelligence in a recent report on Intel.com “Otherwise, the convenience of online shopping will ultimately win out.”

The In-store Active Experience

Rachel Mushahwar, Intel’s general manager for retail, hospitality and consumer packaged goods, notes in the Intel report that “young shoppers want retailers to move from transaction to interaction.”

Some brands have already taken bold steps to attract millennials, such as introducing brainwave-reading devices to match customers to products. One innovator in this area is Japanese clothing store Uniqlo, who used technology originally developed for scientific research to pilot a unique in-store experience for its shoppers. The company built several UMood booths for its Australia stores, where shoppers could step in and see a series of t-shirts. Using artificial intelligence that can measure a reaction to a color or style, the UMood booth helps the buyer pick a shirt based on his or her emotional reaction to the product images.

The UMood technology, developed in collaboration with Melbourne University, uses a dose of neuroscience. The Uniqlo customer in the booth is fitted with a neuro-headset and shown a series of video stimuli, while their neurological responses (including stress, concentration and drowsiness) are analyzed in real time by a custom-built algorithm that identifies their current mood. According to the company, by analyzing the data the UMood booth “is able to recommend the perfect t-shirt” for each customer.

Automated Shopping Kiosks

Uniqlo didn’t stop with AI technology to enhance the shopping experience—it also came up with a 21st century vending machine, the Uniqlo To Go kiosk. Any retail manager knows that the two biggest costs for stores are real estate and labor. If a store can eliminate one and reduce the other, the results can be astounding. Having vending machines instead of—or in addition to—expensive storefronts can save thousands in payroll and move more product. Vending machines can operate 24/7, 365 days a year, making them an in-person rival to the convenience of online shopping.

Uniglo retail kiosk

Photo: Uniqlo To Go

Uniqlo intends to have 10 technology-enabled kiosks selling clothes in operation in airports and shopping malls in Oakland, New York, Houston and several major U.S. cities by the end of September. The six-feet-tall machines will be covered in the company’s logo and will sell staple items, including Uniqlo’s popular heat-retaining shirts and lightweight down jackets. The items will be packaged in boxes and cans, and the buyer can return them in a store or via the mail. The first Uniqlo To Go machine went live at the Oakland International Airport in early August.

Uniqlo isn’t alone in the kiosk concepts. Electronics retailer Best Buy now operates more than 200 Express™ Kiosks around the US, where it sells various electronic gadgets and accessories.

A Planet of Pizza Portals

As shoppers get comfortable snapping up goods from automated kiosks, several food retailers are taking a page from the retail playbook. Little Caesars is experimenting with “pizza portals” in its stores. Customers order and pay using a mobile app, which sends an alert to the user’s smartphone when the order is ready. At the shop, the customer punches in an order code to retrieve her order from an individual compartment in a pizza-warming oven.

Litttle Caesars pickup kiosk

Photo: Little Caesars

Panera has a similar system, where customers place orders in the app or at an in-store kiosk and then scoop up a bag with their name on it from a designated shelf.

Independent software developers are also pitching in new ideas for in-store retail transformation. One such company, Palo Alto, CA-based Curbside, has a service that allows shoppers to select items online or through a mobile app and pick them up at a retail location in less than an hour. Its partners include Boston Market, CVS Pharmacy, Levi’s, Pizza Hut and Sephora.  

Creating Smart Stores

To learn more about the latest in-store IoT retail technology, read the Intel report, “Digital Natives Demand Smart Stores.” 

Mall of America Gets 100+ IoT Digital Directories

Create: 07/25/2017 - 19:04
digital directory kiosks

Photo: Express Image

 

The Mall of America is not just your average shopping mall. It is approximately 5.6 million square ft. in size, which makes finding a specific retailer a challenge for shoppers. The retail stores know that it is imperative that visitors to the Mall are able to navigate with as much ease and easy-to-access logistical information as possible. The store owners want to decrease the chances of a shopper getting lost, which will maximize purchasing time in the store.

To satisfy this need, the Mall of American recently installed a large-scale IoT directory system that included nearly 100 sophisticated and connected digital directories. This project, which is the first of this size and scope, was developed by Express Image, based in Little Canada, MN.

The installation is mutually beneficial to shoppers and retailers. The digital directories increase the amount of time individuals spend in the mall’s businesses, as their loitering times decrease. And customer satisfaction levels have already increased, as they are able to more easily locate stores. According to data from Express Image, “with 700,000 unique sessions in the first month since the tiered installation began, Mall of America has seen the average dwell time from the physical directories drop from over three minutes to less than 40 seconds on the digital directories.”

Smart Digital Directories

Mall of America management partnered with Express Image to design and build the digital directory program. Express Image, which specializes in interactive digital and print media, has several digital offerings, including wayfinding directories, smart kiosks, beacons, digital signage displays, digital menu boards, projection systems, mobile applications and Web development. 

Jeffery Sarenpa, Express Image director of customer-facing technology, explained how the system works. “The directories are built on Google's Chrome OS platform, utilizing Intel technology because of its security, reliability and ease of development. Chrome OS removes typical operating system headaches and allows us to focus on what we feel is most important – building immersive, effective experiences for our customers and their users.”

Interactive Wayfinding Technology

Express Image incorporated interactive wayfinding technology into the shopper’s experience to provide accessible information within a matter of seconds. This ultimately benefits everyone, because the client can include retail ad space in the interactive experience, which has reciprocal financial benefits. The consumer gets the information they need in a matter of seconds, giving them more time to spend at businesses.

Photo: Express Image

The digital directory provides shoppers with the following functionalities:

  • Animated routes
  • Retailer ad space
  • Guest service information
  • Text-to-phone capabilities
  • Search

To further cater to the guest, the directories offer the option to text a map view with step-by-step navigation to a cell phone. At that point, the shopper has the opportunity to text live with a Mall of America digital concierge.

The personalized experience of interacting with an individual through the digital concierge program leads guests to discover the property in ways they may not have considered—ideally increasing the overall length of stay at Mall of America. The digital concierge can make a gift recommendation, book a dining reservation, answer a question about brands, or set a parking reminder. According to Express Image, “The guest can take the guessing game out of shopping and entertainment, allowing them to use their precious time in the way that they want, rather than searching for answers.”

Navigation for Millions in the Mall

The Mall of America has been an effective site for the project’s launch, increasing sales for retailers and decreasing loitering time for shoppers. According to Jill Renslow, Mall of America’s senior vice president of marketing of business, “We want our guests to spend their time having fun at Mall of America, not searching for answers. These directories save a significant amount of time and ease navigation around the property.”

In terms of impact for this digital installation, the directories have a significantly large reach, as the Mall of America has approximately 40 million visitors per year. With this in mind, Express Image had to ensure that the directories are accessible to a range of demographics. The directories contain translatable information for nine languages, including Spanish, French, German, Chinese, Somali, Portuguese, Hmong, Japanese and Arabic.

Find Your Way in the Wayfinding Opportunity

  •  If you are considering incorporating interactive wayfinding for your retail customers, you can connect with an Express Image specialist to explore its digital signage software and hardware options.
  • To learn more about the functionalities of Express Image’s interactive wayfinding technology, watch this video

Autonomous Robots Run the Bar in Las Vegas

Create: 07/20/2017 - 15:54
Tipsy Robot Makr Shakr

Photo: Melanie McMullen

If you have retail customers who sometimes need a hand at the bar, the right solution may (literally) be a hand—a smart robotic one that can mix, stir and shake a customer’s perfect cocktail in a little over a minute. This IoT technology is already on duty at The Tipsy Robot, a bar that opened this summer in the popular Million Mile shopping mall on the Las Vegas strip.

The bartenders there are two robotic arms manufactured by KUKA Robotic Corp. of Germany, which is one of the world’s largest suppliers of robot technology and autonomous system engineering solutions. The Tipsy Robot’s design and functionality is powered by Italy’s Makr Shakr, a robotics company that focuses on food and beverage industrial applications. The same robotic duo technology is in use at the bar on four different Royal Caribbean cruise ships.

The KUKA robots are fully customizable. At The Tipsy Robot, the two robotic arms operate independently of one another. The drink-making system is highly efficient: with its staff of two robotic arms and eight employees, the bar can produce 120 drinks per hour and 1,440 drinks in a day.

At the heart of the automated bar installation is a futuristic platform that contains all the required traditional bar systems and utilities. The core structure integrates the robotic arms, along with liquid dispensing systems, garnishes, ice dispensers and all other functions needed to prepare a variety of mixed cocktails.

Drink Up

Here’s how the system works. As a customer walks into the bar, they order their drinks on one of 33 tablets, choosing a specialty cocktail or creating one of their own. Pineapple Planet and Galactic Grapefruit are among the most popular mixed drinks in the eclectic lineup, which includes both alcoholic and non-alcoholic varieties. All drinks are $14, and the robots don’t accept tips.

The customer’s order and first name appears on a digital screen at the front of the bar, which displays the drink choice and ingredients along with the time estimate for the drinks arrival. One of the robotic arms then pours, mixes, shakes and creates the beverage in about 60 to 90 seconds. The customer pays via the tablet and enters an email address. Once the drink is complete, the customer receives an email with a verification code to release the drink, and the robot slides the drink onto the dispensing platform, where a conveyor belt system slides the drink down the bar for easy customer pickup.

Makr Shakr Tipsy Robot

Photo: Melanie McMullen

In their spare time, the robotic arms slice fruit or dance to the soundtrack of Top 40 hits. Customers can return their empty glasses, which will be rinsed and washed by another robot. The robots are also self-cleaning, to ensure against contamination.

Masters of Technology and Mixology

The Tipsy Robot was brought to life by hospitality industry leader Rino Armeni. Its drink menu and signature robotic cocktails were developed by master mixologist Francesco Lafranconi, who wanted to provide a drink list and allow customers to mix up custom options, creating a highly social, digital environment.

The app is the core of the Tipsy Robot experience. It allows customers to log in, create a user profile, see existing drink recipes or create new ones, and process the order. Ultimately, the customer can share their experience both within the application and on external social platforms. The platform also gathers data and displays real-time statistics via a digital screen in the bar. The data shows the quantity and type of drinks served each day, so customers can see which drinks are the most popular.

Makr Shakr Tipsy Robot

Image: Makr Shakr

The bar’s human staff, known as “Galactic Ambassadors,” help customers interact with the robots and the delivery process. They also snap photos of customers with their drinks for real-time social media posts. The bar also has an old-fashioned, human-operated bar in the corner, in case a customer wants a specific drink not on the robot’s mix list.

A Robot Walks into a Bar

The Tipsy Robot is among a growing list of new consumer and business robots with specific functions. According to BI Intelligence, that segment of the robotics industry is surging. The multibillion-dollar global market for robotics, which has been dominated by industrial and logistics uses, is shifting toward new consumer and business applications, resulting in what may become a $1.5 billion market for consumer and business robots by 2019.

Last-mile Delivery Robots Get Green Light in Five States

Create: 07/10/2017 - 17:58

Photo: Starship Technologies in July 4th parade, Redwood City, CA via @StarshipRobots on Twitter

 

Unmanned delivery robots can make their way over bumps and curbs, but the path to cruising (legally) on the public sidewalk and through the crosswalk has other challenges, including state regulatory approval. Those roadblocks are starting to diminish as Ohio this month became the fifth state to pass a law permitting the use of delivery robots statewide on city-owned sidewalks and crosswalks.

Similar laws have already been passed this year from legislatures in Wisconsin, Idaho, Florida and Virginia. The five states join Washington, D.C., which last year passed special legislation—the Personal Delivery Device Pilot Act of 2016—to allow six-wheeled unmanned devices on the District’s public sidewalks and crosswalks.

London-based Starship Technologies has been integral to getting the new state laws and regulations approved. The company has sent lobbyists to help educate legislators on the technology and champion passage of the laws in D.C. and in all five states.

Unmanned Machines: On a Roll

Starship Technologies is one among several IoT companies that aims to provide a quick, inexpensive, on-demand courier service, allowing retailers to deliver items such as pizza, flowers and groceries to nearby customers. About the size of a rolling cooler, Starship Technologies robots are categorized as unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs) and are a segment of a larger growing robotics market. Research firm Technavio predicts the overall market for UGVs, mail-sorting robots and drones that deliver products to customers from warehouses or manufacturing locations will expand from $15 million in 2015 to $54 million by 2020.

Currently, Starship Technologies isn’t operating in any of the new states that have passed the robot delivery laws. However, Starship has announced that it intends to begin a pilot in Florida this year. In the United States, it currently has pilot delivery programs operating in Redwood City, CA, and Washington, D.C.

Starship Technologies has also signed an agreement with Domino’s for pizza delivery in selected Dutch and German cities. The company has launched business partnerships in Estonia, Germany, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and United States with DoorDash, Hermes Parcel Delivery, Just Eat, Postmates, Swiss Post and Wolt.

Weight and Speed Limits

In Ohio, the new law allows for unmanned machines to operate on sidewalks and in the crosswalks in any city statewide. The robots must weigh less than 90 lbs. and travel at speeds of less than 10 mph. While the robots can move legally without an operator nearby, the law in Ohio requires that a person be in the loop remotely to take over operation in case something goes wrong. The other states have almost identical laws, with weight limits that range from 50 to 90 lbs.

While the Starship robots slip in under the weight limits, some of its competitors will need to slim down to enter the market. For a heavier robot to permanently operate in the five states with the new autonomous machine laws, the manufacturer would need to get a special provision passed by the lawmakers.

The weight limit provision hasn’t created any setbacks, however, to market development and testing. San Francisco-based startup Marble makes a fleet of intelligent courier robots and is currently running a pilot for automated food delivery with Yelp Eat24 in select San Francisco neighborhoods.

IoT robots

Photo: Marble.io

The Marble robots are a bit larger and heavier than Starship’s machines. The Marble machine uses on-board lidar, cameras and ultrasonic sensors, as well as Nvidia’s Jetson TX1 AI supercomputers to sense the environment around them. Structurally, the entire back section of the Marble delivery robot can be swapped out, as the company has announced that it plans to offer “temperature control” services, turning its robots into roving ovens or refrigerators.

Another contender in the last-mile delivery market is Dispatch, based in South San Francisco. Its first vehicle, nicknamed Carry, has four compartments that can carry a total of 100 lbs. Dispatch launched its pilot programs at Menlo College and CSU Monterey Bay, CA, using the device to deliver students their mail, packages and other things. Students can track Carry’s location and get notified when it arrives. Once the robot rolls up, students can unlock and access their package using their mobile phones.

Photo: Dispatch

The Dispatch robot is engineered to complete multiple deliveries per trip. It was built purposely heavy enough so that it would take two people to pick it up, making it next to impossible for one person to easily steal it in an urban or college environment. Carry connects to a 4G network for accurate location tracking for the operator and the recipient of the payload.

Hit the Streets with Autonomous Delivery Technology

  • Learn more about Dispatch delivery robots or watch Carry make a delivery.
  • Information and specs on the Starship Technologies robots are available at www.starship.xyz/.
  • Read about Marble’s plans for developing its fleet of intelligent courier robots.
  • To understand the state regulations currently in place for the robots, read Virginia’s SB 1207, “Electric personal delivery devices, operation on sidewalks and shared-use paths.” 

Order Up: Digital Kiosks Coming to Fast Food Restaurants

Create: 06/28/2017 - 20:56
payment order kiosks

Photo: McDonaldsblog.in

Consumers have a growing appetite for all things digital—shopping, texting, and ordering and buying food. While robots and digital tools have already started serving coffee, tossing salads and mixing custom-blend sodas, their next assignment includes a larger deployment to serve the hungry masses in fast food chains, including the golden arches of McDonald’s.

In a recent report, New York City-based investment firm Cowan states that McDonald’s new Experience of the Future (EOTF) strategy includes replacing cashiers in at least 2,500 restaurants with digital ordering kiosks by the end of 2017, and installing another 3,000 kiosks in its restaurants by 2018.

Cowan analysts state that “McDonald’s is cultivating a digital platform through mobile ordering and EOTF, an in-store technological overhaul most conspicuous through kiosk ordering and table delivery.” McDonald’s is quick to point out that even though it is adding ordering kiosks, the transformation won’t result in mass layoffs in its restaurants. Instead, it plans to move some cashiers to other parts of the restaurant where it will add new jobs, including table service.

Automation and digital cashiers are good for the bottom line, as they speed up the ordering process and can reduce customer wait times. In some cases, the automation tools are a customer draw themselves. The Pyramid Ale Tap Room in the Oakland International airport, for example, reported a 17 percent bump in sales after partnering with Pepper. The robot can recommend drinks, answer customer questions and take orders.

Pepper robot

Photo: Softbank Robotics @SBRAmerica via Twitter

Going McDigital

Cowan notes that with the addition of more “Big Mac ATMs” that serve as digital cashiers, McDonald’s will have significant cost savings and greater ROI. Its restaurants that have already been transformed to the EOTF design model—which includes the kiosks—have experienced a 5 percent to 6 percent lift in sales in the first year after the remodel, and a 2 percent lift in the second year, according to Cowen analyst Andrew Charles.

In addition to the kiosks, McDonald’s plans to roll out a mobile ordering platform across 20,000 of its largest U.S. locations by the end of 2017. By enabling mobile order and pay through the McDonald’s app, customers can personalize their order while skipping the drive-thru line, and/or choose curbside delivery. If customers choose drive-thru in the app, they will read their order code (generated from the app) to the crew, and their mobile order will be ready for pickup at the window.

The goal for these enhancements is to speed up the ordering process and allow more customers to pass through McDonald’s drive-thrus. The company has not announced any specific manufacturer or partner for its EOTF technology implementation.

Using the Internet of Things to Pay for Things

McDonald’s may be picking up on a larger trend—customers prefer digital over human cashiers. A study released in June by Visa and PYMNTS.com, “How We Will Pay,” reports that 80 percent of Americans have a strong interest in using connected devices, including IoT devices, watches and mobile apps, to make purchases.

The study adds that 75 percent of consumers have at least one connected device, in addition to their smartphones, computers or tablets. Almost 83 percent recognize those devices as saving time and reducing friction when making purchases, subsequently creating an unattended checkout experience, regardless of device or platform. This seamless purchase experience is of interest to all respondents surveyed, with auto-pay at the gas pump and in-store automated purchasing topping the list.

See What’s Cooking in Digital Ordering

  • Access the full report and key stats from, “How We Will Pay: Consumers, Connected Devices, and the Future of Payments.”
  • Take a look at the 360 degree view  of McDonald’s restaurant of the future.

IoT Tees Up on the Golf Course

Create: 06/27/2017 - 15:41

Photo credit: Game Golf

 

Technology can be a game changer. For golfers, new IoT technology is literally changing their game, as professional and recreational golfers alike are turning to IoT sensors, digital course mapping and data analytics to get a better understanding of their performance on the course and ultimately lower their score. 

One of the first pieces of technology developed for golfers is ShotLink, a platform created for the PGA Tour that is used for collecting and disseminating scoring and statistical data on every player shot, in real time. Powered by CDW, the ShotLink system launched way back in 1983 and has the honor of being the sport’s first electronic scoreboard. At that time, it had a proprietary data collection device and was powered by two mini-computers.

Now, the system uses sophisticated imaging and data collection tools. CDW’s vision for ShotLink is to "turn data into information, information into knowledge, and knowledge into entertainment." Along with the PGA Tour, ShotLink is used on the Champions Tour and 93 other golf events each year. The system tracks approximately 1.3 million golf shots per year.

Here’s how ShotLink works. Each golf course is mapped prior to the event, so a digital image of each hole is used as background information. The system uses the digital image to calculate exact locations and distances between any two coordinates, such as the tee box and the player’s first shot, or the shot location and the location of the hole.

ShotLink IoT on the golfcourse

Photo: PGA Tour via @ShotLink on Twitter

ShotLink provides its real-time shot measurement data to various sources, including on-site television broadcasts, PGATour.com, players and coaches, and mobile devices. The data is also used by golf course architects when they are evaluating course changes.

Data on the Green and the Screen

The ShotLink platform connects to LED scoreboards scattered throughout each golf course during tournaments. The scoreboards have full access to the complete ShotLink dataset. They display leaderboards and keep fans informed about which groups are coming up next on each hole, and they display a level of detail about the individual player's performance. The scoreboard, for example, can display the distance to pin, lie description and which shot number a player is hitting for each golfer in the group. The scoreboard allows fans to keep track of what the top five players on the leaderboard are doing at any time on the course. The scoreboards also display who's hitting the longest drives or making the longest putts on a given hole.

ShotLink Scoreboard IoT on the golfcourse

Photo: The Players Championship via @ShotLink on Twitter

ShotLink uses custom software to deliver content to the LED scoreboards and other applications over the on-course network. This allows the scoreboard and apps to receive and display scoring and statistical data in real time.

Upping the Game for Amateurs

Using the same data model as ShotLink, developer John McGuire launched a similar platform for amateurs, called Game Golf. Like ShotLink, which uses lasers mounted around the course to track shots, the Game Golf tracking system is nonintrusive. McGuire, now the CEO of the Game Golf, told Intel iQ that he built the system “to help players forget that their every movement was being tracked.”

To do that, he teed up the IoT. The system uses a belt-mounted device, or an app on a golfer’s smartphone and small 1 oz. tags attached to the end of each club. At the end of a round, a golfer can see how they did with a dashboard of pro-level statistics, including stroke distance, stroke trajectory and how often the ball hits the green.

Game Golf is collecting a huge body of data from users and has millions of shots already on file, which makes for some interesting analysis. “The data doesn’t lie,” says McGuire. “It shows a golfer’s tendencies in different situations.”

One observation the company reports is that many amateur golfers need to reconsider their equipment choice as they approach the green. “Our data shows that 94 percent of golfers under-club,” says McGuire. “Most golfers hit the club they chose well, but still come up short. That’s because they had the wrong club selection.”

Game Golf isn’t alone in tracking every blade of golf data for competitors. The new Garmin Approach® S6 watch uses GPS to measure individual swing metrics and provides a high-resolution, touchscreen course view that includes full-color course maps.

While all these products may (or may not) improve a player’s score, they are showing that IoT technology could be the new ace in the hole for sports technology innovation.

Get in the Game

  • To learn more about other IoT tech putting around on golf courses, read the blog, “Swing! Golf Tech to Perfect Your Game” on Intel iQ.
  •  See the IoT technology including the watch and wearables used by Game Golf.
  •  Learn about the ShotLink data collection platform and network technology.

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