Retail Tech Thursday: lockdown #2 gives online Black Friday sales a boost

Retail Tech Thursday is our weekly check-in here at Spreckley, where we share all the most interesting and useful retail and retail technology news, innovations and trends.

This week, as the UK does its Christmas shopping (mostly) online, online sales are predicted to surge by up to 45% during the forthcoming busy Black Friday week later in November, and we look at the latest developments in machine technologies and other smart retail tech innovations that are helping bricks ‘n’ mortar stores survive and thrive through the current lockdown period and into 2021 and beyond.

Lockdown #2 gives online Black Friday sales a boost

With many, if not most of us planning on doing much of our Christmas shopping online later this month, UK online retail sales are expected to grow, 35-45% year-on-year during the Black Friday peak trading period of 23-30 November, reports James Coker over on Essential Retail.

That’s according to the latest forecast by IMRG, which notes: “eCommerce sales so far this year are up 34.9%, which is already a significantly faster rate of growth compared to the whole of 2019, which was 6.7%. The online retail association is also expecting shoppers to begin their Christmas shopping earlier this year, with consumers being actively encouraged to do so to avoid delivery backlogs.

Justin Opie, managing director at IMRG, added: “This year’s huge growth rates, and the expected online bonanza the Black Friday period will deliver, underline retail’s rapid structural shift online. This does not feel like a temporary development; further evidence is no longer required that this is a permanent shift. Retailers, including those with stores, with strong online propositions, will continue to trade well. Those without, for whom it’s not already too late, must adapt now if they are to survive.”

The future of machine technologies in retail

Retail analyst Greg Buzek from the IHL Group considers the future of high-tech tools, robotics and machine technologies in retail over on NRF.com this week

Buzek sees retail in a race to get accurate inventory, noting that: “The first one there wins. That includes computer vision, robotics, automated warehouse, automated pick and RFID. It also means computer-aided ordering. We saw situations where the computer said, “Order 40 times more than you typically order of things like hand sanitizer.” A human being came in and said, “That can’t be right.” And they lost out on those sales because the order was cancelled.”

And in terms of the longer-term impact of COVID-19 on machine deployment in retail, the analyst adds: “At the end of the day, it’s about having the inventory to meet customer need. We had $1.8 trillion of out-of-stocks and overstocks this year. We had $500 billion in out-of-stocks that happened to be because of COVID. A lot of those were previously hidden.

“Where we’re seeing the biggest growth is in technologies that have been around for a while, but they now have tacit approval to use. Self-checkout is 20 years in the making and Walmart has just said they’re going to go full self-checkout in a trial. C-stores are going to self-checkout at the peaks. It’s not like it hasn’t been there and installed. It just went from an install rate of 5 percent per year to 15 percent.

“Edge computing, where data is stored closer to where it is needed, will be a big conversation as well. Is that information best computed at the shelf, in the actual robot, in a server or up in the cloud? We’re seeing 580 percent increase in the next two years for edge computing. All these IoT devices limit your local area network ability in the store.

How smart tech can help bricks ‘n’ mortar survive

Continuing the conversation about new smart technologies in retail, Liran Bar over on MyTotalRetail.com takes a more in-depth look at the ways in which smart tech can help bricks ‘n’ mortar stores survive.

Bar notes that: “Even if the declaration of the end of in-store shopping has been greatly exaggerated, the challenges remain formidable. For physical stores to survive the upcoming holiday season and beyond, they’ll need to embrace solutions that cater to customers’ expectations of a retail experience that’s just as convenient and seamless as online shopping, while also adhering to new norms of social distancing.

“One solution to this predicament lies in automated technology, including in-store cameras and robots designed to enable efficient, convenient shopping experiences. While retail automation is hardly new, it has been relatively slow to catch on, with only 40 percent of retailers indicating in a recent survey that it’s a strategic priority.

“This despite findings that 46 percent of consumers would be willing to switch their purchase from an e-commerce site to a brick-and-mortar retailer with automation technology, and 66 percent believing such technology would solve the problem of long checkout lines — shoppers’ top brick-and-mortar pain point.

“Robots will also play a prominent role in the future of smart retail, and indeed, many top retailers have already rolled out their own in-store robots. Lowe’s has introduced the LoweBot, which both aids in customer service and conducts real-time inventory monitoring. Portuguese retailer Auchan also benefits from the in-depth insights of inventory-monitoring robots, which scan stores up to three times a day to deliver an up-to-date picture of inventory on each shelf — a regular stream of data for guiding smarter business decisions. Walmart’s Auto-C autonomous floor cleaners, meanwhile, help address the growing need for thorough and efficient cleaning and disinfecting of physical stores. All of these promise smoother operations, well-stocked shelves, and a fresher, healthier customer experience.