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Social Innovation

The Rise of Automated Retail is Powered by Smart Spaces

By Justin Bean, Global Director of Smart Spaces and Lumada Video Insights Marketing at Hitachi Vantara

How Smart, Sustainable Technologies Can Breathe New Life and Competitiveness Into Brick-and-Mortar Businesses

 

There used to be two options for serving customers fast-moving goods. You could offer them low cost and convenience through 24/7 service and quick-turn operations. Or you could focus on quality and sustainable practices, sacrificing speed for creating efficiencies in production, understanding customer needs and even reducing environmental impact.

Online shopping has disrupted this paradigm, especially for traditional brick-and-mortal retailers who may struggle to keep up in either scenario today. But these businesses and similar companies with fast-moving goods can now tap into innovative uses of data and automation that combine the best of these options — while offering a frictionless experience for customers on par with e-commerce shops. Solutions such as the Hitachi Automated Shop, which brings frictionless shopping and autonomous checkout where shoppers simply enter, grab what they want, and walk out. Retailers gain similar data and analytics to online retail in an in-store, customer-focused commerce experience. This data can also help streamline the supply chain and reduce waste in a way that modernizes how consumers think about convenience.

Taking a page from online retailers’ book

Hitachi Automated Shop leverages the data-driven approach of online retail innovators, who have become extremely adept at gathering insights into customer behavior, anticipating their needs and expediting transactions. Online shopping’s recent growth, especially during the pandemic, advanced customer adoption of technology, but also expectations for personalized, effortless transactions, no matter where they occur. With Automated Shops, Hitachi uses the same approach to empower a more efficient, resilient, privacy protected, sustainable inventory management and customer experience for multilocation brick-and-mortar businesses.

The combination of computer vision, the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and advanced analytics helps businesses meet the needs of customers where they are, more efficiently and sustainably than before. Mobile and modular, Automated Shops can be designed to support nonstop operations in a variety of locations. They help fast-moving goods reach customers in diverse environments, such as airports and train terminals, gas stations, hospitals, factory cafeterias and can even be transported to serve festivals and concerts. Unlike many autonomous stores, the Hitachi Automated Shop can offer a hybrid model, where only select areas in the store are automated, perhaps for 24/7 availability, privacy, or customer experience reasons, while other parts of the store can use traditional checking or self-checkout methods.

Hitachi Automated Shops use 3D lidar sensors which create 3D laser point clouds that don’t capture personal information, along with product-aware shelves from our partner Shekel Brainweigh, and analytics to support an automated customer experience throughout the entire retail journey, from the moment they check in and walk into a store, through browsing and interacting with products, to automated checkout and payment. The solution analyses journeys and which products are picked up, set back, and purchased. Businesses can acquire visibility into customer behavior in physical settings that was previously reserved for the digital world, without invading privacy. They can also customize product inventory, reduce shrinkage, benchmark and track performance, and manage incidents and operations for multiple locations with Hitachi Visualization Suite.

Making convenience sustainable

The same data insights that enhance the customer experience can also enhance sustainability across the supply chain. Hitachi Automated Shops allow organizations to:

  • Maximize efficiency with real-time insights and data-driven decisions: Hitachi Smart Spaces solutions, an integral part of Hitachi Automated Shops, give companies granular visibility into customer activity. The solutions empower store owners and operators with metrics to help predict and adjust to fast-changing customer preferences so they can stock exactly what their customers want, avoiding costly and wasteful overstocks, or wasted orders. The impact rolls upstream to producers, driving smarter choices in the product life cycle.
  • Unlock staff potential with intelligent resource allocation: Businesses can use technology such as lidar to improve their access to inventory data for a more resilient, predictive supply chain. These technologies also free up staff members from time-consuming, repetitive duties like scanning bar codes and bagging merchandise. Instead of spending their time on unsatisfying manual tasks, they can assist customers, restock shelves, or be where they are needed most. This minimizes overhead while allowing for 24/7 operations during peak and slow times without having to meet unpredictable staffing levels.
  • Reduce waste and improve resiliency with just-in-time stocking: Hitachi Smart Spaces solutions can make store shelves more productive, with supply running in lockstep with demand. Using Smart Shelf technology paired with sophisticated planography information, the business tracks consumption in real time, recognizing every product sold to customers, adding it to their virtual shopping baskets, and updating back-end supply chain systems as transactions occur. The result is more accurate forecasts and a nimbler supply chain that calls for products to be restocked the moment they leave the shelf.
  • Mobilize to streamline the supply chain: Hitachi Automated Shops can be modular and moveable so business owners can position them where customers need them most. For example, retailers can place autonomous, unattended micromarkets the size of shipping containers in transit centers or other high-traffic areas. These modular shops can also serve remote areas that are difficult to sustain with traditional supply processes — as well as seasonal or short-term venues such as beaches or outdoor-event spaces. This helps customers meet their needs closer to home, reducing greenhouse gas emissions from short-distance travel and bringing services to underserved areas.

By providing retailers and other multilocation businesses with detailed, timely inventory status and real-time customer preferences, Hitachi Automated Shops help develop a supply chain that is more resilient, more predictive and more sustainable. This supports several of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. For example, Hitachi’s movable, modular shops can improve access to fresh, varied food for underserved populations to help reach zero hunger. By reducing downtime and waste, Automated Shops also foster responsible consumption and production, as well as making sustainable convenience a reality.

To learn more about how Hitachi is empowering businesses and local communities to extend positive environmental, economic and social impacts worldwide, check out our solution profile here.

Justin Bean

Justin Bean
Global Director, Smart Spaces and Lumada Video Insights Marketing, Hitachi Vantara

Justin furthers the mission of social innovation and building a more sustainable society through technology and business innovation. Justin has worked with both Silicon Valley startups and fortune 500s that are applying AI, IoT, and other disruptive technologies to improve our cities, commutes, and daily lives. He has worked in the US, Japan, and South Africa on projects that include smart cities, smart parking, electric vehicles, renewable energy, machine learning, and 3D printing. Justin was the recipient of the THINK Prize for the Financial Empowerment Challenge from renowned innovation and design firm IDEO and holds an MBA in sustainable management.

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