5 ways the future of retail is already here

Tech can coordinate outfits, stock shelves

Washington Post

Kroger is adding digital price tags to its shelves.
Washington Post Kroger is adding digital price tags to its shelves.

NEW YORK — Americans’ shopping habits are quickly changing, which means retailers and tech start-ups are racing to make over every part of the industry, from the weekly grocery trip to putting together a weekend outfit.

And while many of the new offerings — mobile payments, new methods of delivery — are centered on online shopping, many others are seeking to simplify the way we find and buy products in stores.

“The retail sector is going through a fundamental change as companies find new ways to use data and intelligence,” Greg Jones, director of industry solutions for retail at Microsoft, said at the National Retail Federation’s annual conference this week. “Artificial intelligence is now a part of the fabric, and we’re seeing faster adoption of new technology than ever before.”

So how exactly will these new technologies shape the way we shop? Here are five trends to watch.

1 Prices that change by the hour

If you’re an avid online shopper, chances are you’ve noticed prices on specific products — a box of tissues, say, or a blender — change at what seems like a flip of a dime. Now that same sensibility is making its way to in-store retail.

Digital-price displays at grocery powerhouses such as Kroger now allow retailers to make sweeping changes to their prices in one go. Whereas adjusting prices or marking down weekly specials would normally take hours, if not days, new technology makes it possible to change thousands of prices with the click of a button.

2 Digital mirrors to help you visualize new outfits, lipstick or sunglasses

Not sure if red lipstick’s your thing? Or whether those tortoiseshell glasses look good on your face? Now you can ask your mirror.

Digital mirrors by Memoni, which already are used by retailers such as Sephora and Neiman Marcus, allow shoppers to try — and get feedback on — makeup, glasses and other wares. If you’re in the market for a new pair of frames, you could try on different styles, take short 360-degree videos and compare your options side-by-side.

Still not convinced? You can send images and videos from the mirror to a friend for instant feedback.

3 Robotic shopping carts — or no carts at all

Meet Dash, a robotic shopping cart that imports your shopping list, guides you to each item and allows you to check out with the swipe of a credit card. After you’ve finished shopping, it follows you to your car. And the best part? Once you’ve unloaded your groceries, Dash will automatically find its way back to a docking station.

4 Technology to help you find better-fitting shoes, and coordinating outfits

Companies increasingly are collecting thousands of data points on their customers and using technology to recommend products they might like. Companies such as Stitch Fix are using algorithms to send monthly clothing shipments to consumers’ homes.

Can’t figure out how to wear that new denim jacket you bought? You can text a photo to American Eagle via Facebook Messenger, and FindMine will send you outfit pairings within seconds.

5 Robots that restock shelves and guide you to what you need

Store owners say that keeping shelves well-stocked and inventory in the right place is among their biggest challenges. Now retailers such as Lowe’s and BevMo are outsourcing much of that work to robots.

The device, by Fellow Robots, rolls through the aisles checking for misplaced items and empty shelf space. If it sees, for example, that a store is running low on hammers, it will alert employees to order more.

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But perhaps just as important, its creators say, the robot also can answer shoppers’ questions and help them find what they’re looking for.

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