Robots and Artificial Intelligence Among Top Tech Trends

Lowe’s LoweBot robot helps consumers in stores
January 4, 2017Andrea Lillo

Lowe’sLoweBotLowe’s LoweBot is being rolled out in San Francisco.
NEW YORK—Retailers took technology to another level last year with tools such as virtual reality, self-checkout and robots among the top tech trends that upped the customer’s convenience quotient.

And 2017 looks to see even more evolution, as retailers incorporate technology both online and in stores to help create a fluid experience for consumers.

Physical stores are also getting makeovers, as some retailers tweak their locations to give customers experiences and services they can’t get online.

“Brick-and-mortar stores won’t die—but will need digital to thrive,” according to Forrester Research’s report, “Predictions 2017: The Line Between Digital And Physical Retailing Will Vanish.” Retailers need to transform their stores, it added, to offer a brand-service-experience combination.

One example cited by Forrester is Lowe’s Holoroom virtual reality kitchen and bathroom design service—a win/win as the customer gets a valuable service and Lowe’s gets to learn more about individual customer preferences and needs.

Self checkout will also continue to gain ground. After launching its first physical bookstore late in 2015, Amazon will soon open Amazon Go, a grocery store where customers don’t have to check out as sensors automatically tally their carts and charge their Amazon accounts. Other smart store technology includes shelves: grocery chain Kroger’s is testing smart shelf technology connected to its app to help customers locate particular items in the store.

And while it has a sci-fi feel, robots are coming to retail locations. Last fall, Lowe’s began rolling out its LoweBot in 11 stores in the San Francisco Bay area after a successful test. Fluent in both English and Spanish, the robot can help customers with simple questions and finding products, allowing employees to focus their time offering their expertise and specialty knowledge to customers. The robot can also help with real-time inventory monitoring.

As consumers’ obsessions with their smart phones continues to grow, retailers also need to address their mobile strategy. Last year, 75 percent of U.S. consumers used smartphones (up from 52 percent in 2013) and 52 percent used tablets (up from 32 percent), said Forrester’s report. In-store, consumers are actively using their smartphones to compare prices (19 percent of U.S. consumers in 2016), find product information (17 percent), find or redeem a coupon (15 percent), and/or read customer reviews (15 percent). Forrester recommends retailers develop an app+ strategy, designing it around how the consumer uses her smartphone and the retailer’s app or mobile site specifically.

Other technologies gaining traction include artificial intelligence. Amazon’s Echo family, powered with the artificial intelligence persona Alexa, topped the best-sellers list at this holiday season, the retailer said. And such services such as Chatbots, where the consumer can interact with the retailer via a chat interface through such products as Facebook Messenger and text messages, will also continue to evolve.

Retailers are also bringing augmented and virtual reality to their offerings, which is sure to grow this year. Ashley Furniture Industries, for one, is beginning a company-wide virtual and augmented reality strategy to enable consumers to create interior layouts and experience living spaces in 3-D. Customers with The Home Depot’s app can now use its augmented reality feature to see two-dimensional images of products in a virtual setting of their home.

Andrea LilloAndrea Lillo | Fashion Editor

Andrea Lillo has written about a variety of topics, from beer gardens in Queens to kitchen design trends to residential caves. Having joined Home Furnishings News in 2006, she serves as Fashion Editor.

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