LiDAR: sophisticated analytics to enhance the shopping experience

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The retail industry has seen a huge amount of change in recent weeks, let alone months. As the online world continues to satisfy evolving consumer shopping habits and grow, the struggle to compete and remain profitable continues for brick and mortar retailers. This year alone we’ve watched the likes of Poundworld and Toys ‘R’ Us go into administration, alongside over 20 others.

Despite these harsh realities of the retail industry, there have been encouraging signs that brick and mortar retailers are fighting back. For example, one retailer is trialling till-free shops, whereby shoppers scan and pay for groceries on their smartphone and exit the store without visiting the checkout.

Is this extreme? Perhaps. Is it worth exploring to see the impact innovative technology has on customer experiences and, subsequently, sales? Absolutely! The rest of the high street should take note.

It’s time to see the light

At present, despite being inundated with data, brick and mortar retailers struggle to understand what their customers are doing and thinking, and this is where innovative technology can help.

Using sophisticated analytics, Light Detecting and Ranging (LiDAR) has the potential to answer one of retail’s most difficult questions: what do my customers actually do when they enter my store?  First developed in the early 1960s, LiDAR technology has been increasingly used in many industries in recent years. It uses laser pulses to image objects, measure distances and has the potential to observe real-time movement in three dimensions. A LiDAR system calculates how long it takes for the laser to hit an object or surface and then return back, working at a rate of around 1,000,000 pulses per second.

With this technology, retailers can track a customer’s behaviour, from anonymously following their path through a store, to monitoring hand height and direction. It enables retailers to identify precisely what customers pick up and put down, which can help improve the customer experience (CX) by adapting the retail environment to suit the behaviour of customers.

Whereas online retailers have been able to predict the habits of shoppers for years with cookies, tracking and the wealth of data generated by online purchasing, this is the first time offline stores have had the ability to do so.

There is also the added bonus LiDAR offers in the area of shrink. In conjunction with AI, LiDAR is already being utilised to determine potentially anomalous behaviour by identifying unusual shopping patterns and habits which don’t match the ‘norm’. This helps reveal the reason for losses – or at least where there are any vulnerabilities – which retailers can then act on to reduce shrink in the future. It may not eliminate the problem entirely, but even the smallest improvement could result in significant savings for retailers.

Innovation is key

In the past, the use of new technology in retail has often been a gimmick, designed to attract – and sometimes distract – shoppers. That’s not the case now. Recent research found that almost half of British consumers (44%) support innovative retail technology if it offers them discounts and a third (33%) would approve if it reduces store theft. Clearly, consumers are identifying the benefits the technology would bring them and, as such, demand is increasing. All retailers need to do is keep up.

Combining LiDAR technology with the likes of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning techniques allows retailers to identify trends, problems and even in-store theft in real time. Instead of tracking a customer’s movements from up high via CCTV, LiDAR can analyse a customer’s movements in 3D, offering retailers more information than just how effective a promotion was or how long a customer stands in a specific aisle.

As consumer demands and expectations increase, retailers need to ensure that they are constantly innovating and disrupting the industry. Offering customisable, personalised shopping experiences that improve how people shop will not only benefit consumers, but will allow retailers to attract and retain loyal customers – benefitting the business as a whole.

Retail technology is constantly evolving, and businesses in this sector are beginning to utilise it accordingly – but there is still a way to go. Retailers can no longer rely on voucher loyalty schemes or offers on recently bought products to attract and retain customers; they need to innovate and expand the services they offer. Just like personalised film selections on Netflix or ready-made Spotify playlists, customers are demanding superior experiences that better meet their needs – and if high street retailers are to have any chance of competing with the online world, turning to innovative technology such as LiDAR and adapting their services accordingly will be critical to succeeding.

Pierson Broome, Hitachi Consulting