Contrary to popular belief, retail stores aren’t dead. While online shopping has cut into stores’ bottom lines over the decades, there’s still value in making the trip — whether you want to try clothes on for fit or learn more about an item before purchasing it, there are still some things that can’t be done as effectively from a computer.
But, there are advantages to online shopping for retailers. For one, it’s much easier to collect metrics — not just what shoppers are buying, but how long they look at items, and which products are most likely to be put in the cart but never purchased. Analyzing this information, those retailers can adjust their prices and stocking habits accordingly. At the National Retail Federation’s Big Show in New York today, Intel announced grand plans to bring those rapid analytics to stores with their Responsive Retail Platform, along with plans to invest another $100 million in retail over the next five years..
There’s been some level of analytics going on in retail for a while, with data from sensors passed along to retailers through inventory software made just for stores. Intel is setting themselves up in the middle of that — their platform is chiefly for data collection and analytics, but its biggest advantage might be that it’s open source. It’ll work with any retail sensors and any retail software that stores want to use, opening up a lot of opportunities for Intel to get into the retail business.
So, what kind of sensors are we talking about here? Well, we kind of got an idea of where this is all heading when Amazon announced their grocery store late last year. In their store, Amazon is using tons of sensors in each aisle to monitor how many times an item has been picked up, exactly what’s going into carts, and what’s getting purchased and not purchased. It’s nothing that couldn’t be worked out the hard way, but the appeal is getting those analytics done instantly — automating analysis that would otherwise take days or weeks.
For their part, Intel will be introducing their own sensors alongside their analytics platform. The Intel Responsive Retail Sensor is a low-power RFID sensor — if everything in the store has an RFID tag on it, the sensors can track where those items are and how often they’re looked at. The Intel sensors are expandable, too, so they could be outfitted with motion or occupancy sensors to get an idea of how long people are standing in front of certain products and mulling them over. All of that data would be routed through the Responsive Retail Gateway Intel is making with HP, which looks like a modified HP mini office PC. You can also rope in digital signage, which can help customers find or customize items — something else Intel has been working on for years.
For retailers, there are a lot of benefits. By getting advanced and real-time analytics using low-power hardware through their existing retail software, they can make faster decisions about pricing and stocking without spending that much more money, keeping overhead costs down.
While store owners will see most of the benefits, there are reasons for consumers to be excited. One of the advantages of retail stores that hasn’t been taken advantage as much as it could is that products can be demonstrated and explained. Apple’s retail stores are probably the best example of this, which is why we’ve seen so many imitators, especially in tech. By knowing which items are the most popular, stores can figure out which items they should teach their workers about, for the sake of live in-store demos. This data will also shape how stores build out interfaces for any touchscreens in the store, which can also help customers learn more about or customize products. As AI and augmented reality get more advanced, those touchscreens will become even more useful. In other words, you can expect a much more interactive trip to the store — without the pressure, we hope.