By Barry Po
As retailers seek to effectively augment, equal, or improve upon the e-commerce shopping experience in-store, new technologies are driving store design considerations. Witness the increasing attention to BOPIS pickup areas. More tech disruption is on the horizon with such in-store technologies as automated payment centers, visual search displays, AI-enabled voice assistants, inventory control robots, augmented reality, virtual reality, and more.
The key to realizing the potential of retail’s digital transformation is data. One of the best ways to collect that data for analysis and insights is with the growing number of useful and inexpensive sensors.
Going beyond energy efficiency
Some stores have already installed in-store sensors to help manage their energy use more effectively. Smart thermostats and sensors measure variables including space temperatures, outdoor weather and relative humidity, occupancy levels, HVAC unit efficiency, and the velocity and disbursement of air moving throughout the space. This data is then used to optimize indoor climate to ensure comfort and increase air quality while reducing energy use, costs, and carbon footprints.
But why stop there? Store owners and designers can derive additional insights from these sensors. Energy management sensors can help make commercial buildings more energy-efficient, and the data can provide valuable information to help designers create spaces that better serve customers and enhance sales.
Optimizing space usage
Data from occupancy sensors, for instance, can show traffic trends over time, enabling designers to analyze customer behavior and space usage patterns. For instance, data showing high-density traffic zones within a location can help project teams choose the number and location of point-of-sale systems, including cashierless POS systems.
With occupancy sensor data, a retailer also can determine how many people entered the store versus how many eventually purchased items. Analyzing this data could result in better in-store promotional presentations to boost conversion rates and improved merchandising of targeted products such as timely or high-profit items.
In-store sensor data can also identify bottlenecks in customer traffic flow. This can help designers optimize the space during reno to serve customers and sales, reducing “human collisions” per hour per square foot.
Increasingly, patrons and staff are expressing interest in safe and healthy indoor environments. Sensors can monitor CO2 and VOCs and can identify certain gases that can then be adjusted with outdoor air dampers. This can help retailers maintain air quality at optimum levels and can inform redesign efforts for better air flow.
Beyond repurposing energy sensor data, store designers should consider installing other types of sensors throughout the store to gather additional data. These can include optical sensors on shelves that capture anonymized demographic information with image detection and analysis, sensors that monitor when shelves need to be restocked, and personalization technologies that offer sales messages to specific customers throughout their journey in the store.
Sensor data accumulated over time can serve as the foundation for future remodels and rebuilds, especially as retailers incorporate lessons learned from innovators such as Amazon Go. The online giant is incorporating sensors, cameras, and WiFi beacons in its new brick-and-mortar stores to enable a more frictionless shopping experience that blurs online/offline boundaries.
Historical sensor data will also help retailers determine what kind of store format, such as flagship or popup, will best serve a location.
A revolution in store design is underway, and sensor data will play an indispensable part of the new retail experience.
Barry Po, Ph.D., is president of Smart Facilities, mCloud Technologies.