HERE COME ‘SMART STORES’ WITH ROBOTS, INTERACTIVE SHELVES

[1/3/17]  Tomorrow’s retail stores want to take a page from their online rivals by embracing advanced technology — everything from helpful robots to interactive mirrors to shelves embedded with sensors.

The goal: Use these real-world store features to lure shoppers back from the internet, and maybe even nudge them to spend more in the process.

Amazon’s new experimental grocery store in Seattle, opening in early 2017, will let shoppers buy goods without needing to stop at a checkout line. Sensors track items as shoppers put them into baskets or return them to the shelf. The shopper’s Amazon account gets automatically charged.

“Amazon, for good or bad, has been setting the path,” said Robert Hetu, research director at Gartner Research. “Each retailer is going to have to respond in some way. But it’s not one-size-fits-all.”

Kroger, Neiman Marcus and Lowe’s are among the companies already experimenting with futuristic retail stores. Robots, for instance, could help guide shoppers to the right aisle, while augmented reality apps could help you see how a particular shade of paint will look in the living room — or how you might look in a pair of jeans. Many of these technologies will be unveiled or demonstrated at the CES gadget show in Las Vegas, which begins Tuesday with media previews.

Plenty of retailers have learned through trial — and error — that technology can’t get too far ahead of shoppers. It has to be easy to use and beneficial to shoppers in some way, whether it’s to save time or money. If retailers get it right, they might succeed in boosting spending at retail stores at a time when consumers increasingly prefer to shop online.

Here are five technologies coming to a store near you.

SMART SHELVES

Web retailers have plenty of data on their customers. Some of these online technologies can even track shoppers from site to site to lure them back with what’s known as retargeting ads — promos targeted to what that shopper has looked at before, but didn’t actually buy. Smart shelves with sensors promise the same kind of in-depth consumer behavior analytics at retail stores.

At a Kroger store in Cold Spring, Ohio, shelves currently show digitized price tags and information about the products. The next step is to tie that to individual shoppers. For example, for a shopper who prefers gluten-free products, the price tags could light up in the aisle where all the gluten-free options are. The company says this will all be done with the customer’s permission.

Perch Interactive, a startup that is working with chains like Sunglass Hut and fragrance maker Jo Malone, uses laser and motion sensors to detect when a product is picked up. Perch monitors the interactions and lets retailers know what people pick up but don’t buy. It also offers recommendations: When a shopper picks up a Jo Malone product, an interactive display pops up to show a complementary fragrance.

ROBOTS

Amazon and other retailers have long used robots in warehouses to help package and ship orders. But what about interacting with shoppers?