Last month Andrew Getter, UK sales manager for the Swiss-based tech company Scandit, dropped into GDR’s London office. Innovation researcher Charlie Lloyd explores how the company plans to revolutionise the supermarket experience for both customers and staff.
Of all the glimpses into the future of physical retail proffered by the stories that we cover at GDR, among the glitziest and most revolutionary is the one laid out by Amazon Go, the omnipotent platform’s chain of automated and cashless convenience stores. Whether or not that model ever achieves ubiquity is incredibly unlikely to happen anytime soon, given the barriers to entry for the majority of retailers are so vast.
Other companies are bringing solutions to market that, in the words of Andrew Getter, UK sales manager at Scandit, help retailers to “think like Amazon,” if not go quite so far. Scandit is a fast-growing Swiss-based tech company that originally spun out of MIT, ETH Zurich and IBM Research in 2009. Its proposition is built around its barcode scanning technology that layers augmented reality onto computer vision to offer far-reaching solutions, primarily across retail and logistics.
The principal customer-facing use case of Scandit is cashier-less checkout, a feature being trialled through Scandit’s technology by the Co-op, among others, in 30 stores across the UK. By integrating Scandit’s technology into retailers’ apps, the customer can use their own smartphones to scan each product’s barcode as they put them into their cart, before paying via their mobile wallet. This requires a few more steps from the consumer than at Amazon Go where customers just pick up what they want and scan their device as they leave, but it allows the consumer to skip the queue, and therefore erases the biggest painpoint in grocery shopping from the process.
For retailers too, it offers a solution that’s far cheaper to implement and doesn’t require camera coverage of every inch of the store in order to work, in the way that Amazon Go does. That model is not only hugely complex and expensive: Scandit also argues that it simply doesn’t make sense for certain store formats or types of products.
Retailers are also able to enhance the shopping experience by using Scandit’s tech to overlay customer reviews onto each product at the shelf-edge. This brings us to what differentiates Scandit’s technology from the other players offering similar solutions: it can scan multiple barcodes simultaneously with exceptional accuracy. With multiple barcodes in view, retailers can set the AR to display top level review scores, which expand into full reviews as the customer comes closer to focus on one particular product. Customers can also input search parameters (ie vegan, gluten-free etc) and find relevant products by holding their phone in front of the shelf and using the AR overlay.
Improving staff efficiency
Scandit is helping to align the physical shopping experience more closely with the convenience and seamlessness of ecommerce, but retailers are finding just as much value in placing the technology in their associates’ hands too. Among the use cases for in-store associates are shelf management and price verification, order picking and mobile point-of-sale. According to Scandit, having these capabilities on associates’ own devices frees up from 25 minutes to an hour per associate per day, increasing productivity and freeing up more time to focus on customer service.
Part of Scandit’s value proposition is that it makes smartphones work as well (and in many cases, better, according to Scandit) as an enterprise grade barcode scanner, while lowering the total cost of ownership of the technology. In addition to speed, Scandit’s algorithms are able to scan even blurred and damaged barcodes. Allowing associates to use their smartphones on the shop floor requires a change in thinking for retailers, many of whom have previously banned them. Yet the prospect of putting these capabilities in its employees’ hands is leading to a change of heart. Tesco now has a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policy, while Auchan has gone one or two steps further and has paid for smartphones, equipped with Scandit’s tech, for each of its store associates.
Behind the scenes, Scandit’s technology has far reaching applications too, from stock taking and inventory management to space optimisation. The ability to scan multiple barcodes at once comes in handy in the stockroom and the warehouse. Enabling staff to quickly identify the right products can help to speed up the Collect part of Click & Collect and a whole range of other inventorial tasks. Perhaps the strongest testament to the versatility of the technology is Scandit’s client list, peppered with the likes of Carrefour, Sephora and Bed, Bath and Beyond in retail to FedEx, DHL and Hermes in logistics.
At present, Scandit can scan text as well as barcodes through OCR (Optical Character Recognition), but is working on broader image recognition capabilities to make it even faster and easier to use. Its technology lives primarily in smartphones for the time being, both in-app and in browsers through its SDK (software developer kit), but Scandit envisions a future for itself in which its technology is integrated into wearables such as connected glasses; drones, to optimise logistics in large warehouses, and in other devices, such as camera-enhanced shopping carts and robots. It’ll be interesting to find out the extent to which technology like Scandit’s and its competitors’ permeates physical retail in the coming months and years.