As curbside pickup and a demand for “scan and go” and touchless transactions swelled during the pandemic — and remain prominent consumer preferences — the role of mobile devices and related technology has never been more important.
Here, Christian Floerkemeier, chief technology officer, vice president of product and cofounder of Scandit, discusses these trends and how his company is helping brands and retailers succeed in the current environments.
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WWD: From your perspective in the market, how has COVID-19 changed shopping behavior?
Christian Floerkemeier: COVID-19 meant that staying safe and avoiding contact while shopping became a priority. As a result, grocery retailers that had mobile Scan & Go in place saw a significant uptake in usage in their stores. For example, several Scandit customers witnessed increases of more than 100 percent in users and transactions with their mobile Scan & Go solution since the start of the pandemic.
There was also a significant increase in customers shifting to online shopping. In the U.K., online shopping in groceries grew 0 to 7 percent in two decades and then 7 to 13 percent in just eight weeks once the pandemic started. Similarly, the U.S. saw online spend increase by more than 44 percent in the April to June period of 2020.
While some of that increase was with home delivery, curbside pickup became increasingly popular. Curbside pickup was also not limited to grocery stores. Several large fashion and cosmetics chains leveraged their locked-down stores as fulfillment centers to deal with 2- to 3- digit-percent growth in online shopping with consumers picking up their orders at the entry to the store.
WWD: What role do mobile devices play in today’s new customer shopping journey?
C.F.: Mobile devices play a key role in today’s customer journey. In the hands of the customer, they facilitate contactless shopping, providing product advice and availability of information through virtual assisted-selling mobile apps — keeping store associates and consumers safe. With Scan & Go, they become a barcode scanner and checkout device and thus facilitate a truly contactless shopping transaction. This removes the need to touch the same [point-of-service] terminal that hundreds of other shoppers already touched (and possibly contaminated).
In the hands of the employee, mobile devices become an important tool for retailers to maintain the safety and flexibility of the workforce. Sharing traditional scanning devices among store associates is a significant health risk in COVID-19 times. Secondly, having personal mobile devices increases the flexibility for retailers. A large U.S. fashion retailer, for example, rolled out an in-store picking app for their store associates that already had personal iOS devices.
Within weeks, they went from conception to launch to starting to fulfill orders from their locked-down stores. These mobile devices, which use the camera for high-performance barcode scanning and provide an outstanding user experience, can of course be used for inventory management, assisted selling and MPOS use cases.
WWD: How does your company’s technology work? How can it help brands, retailers and customers?
C.F.: At Scandit, we provide computer vision solutions for smart devices. This includes, for example, barcode scanning software solutions that leverage the camera of smartphones and provides a scanning experience that rivals the traditional scanner guns. With support across thousands of smartphone models and robust algorithms that scan any barcode even under very adverse conditions, we facilitate the rollout of Scan & Go solutions. Our augmented reality software solutions help bring an e-commerce-like experience into the store with AR product advice, personalized coupons and way-finding.
Our computer vision software solutions also make store associates more efficient. Pricing on shelf labels can be checked automatically without manual work, planogram mismatches can be identified in a less tedious way and, last but not least, all of this is possible with a single device — the personal smartphone of the employee — without the need for specialized additional hardware.
WWD: What is your sense of the market? What will 2021 bring in terms of technology and shifts in consumer behavior?
C.F.: While in-store order fulfillment/curbside pickup grew significantly during COVID-19 times and the adoption of online shopping is likely not going away, retailers will need to execute these processes more efficiently to keep their margins. This includes better inventory management and more sophisticated order fulfillment approaches. Both of which can be addressed with advanced mobile computer vision technology.
We also expect to see an increased adoption of virtual services within brick-and-mortar stores. Many studies show that consumers like shopping in brick-and-mortar stores, but they expect the convenience of the online shopping experience with recommendation systems, personalized offers and product comparisons. Sophisticated mobile apps that incorporate augmented reality features and excel with an outstanding user experience can significantly contribute to this customer desire.