The Covid-19 pandemic has certainly changed the dynamic by which customers do their shopping. Consumer habits across the globe have changed, granting retailers the opportunity to meet new expectations and develop solutions that are both interesting and convenient for the new breed of consumers. One of the biggest aims of companies in 2022 is to offer customers a frictionless shopping experience. Even since before the pandemic, a few select retails have been experimenting with unattended retail solutions to provide just that.
Unattended retail can roughly be defined as a sales transaction that takes place without any human interaction. Take vending machines, interactive kiosks, micro markets, or self-service stations for example – all of them are a part of the unattended retail environment. Certain retail experts define it as being in-between traditional brick & mortar stores and e-commerce. With this context in mind, unattended retail has emerged as a rather interesting solution for consumers who would prefer to make buying decisions after viewing the product in-person, while being able to complete the purchase without standing in line or waiting on slow-moving employees.
Speed and convenience is the name of the game when it comes to unattended retail. As such, these solutions can likely be implemented in areas where brick & mortar stores would not be traditionally viable, but receives high foot traffic regularly.
How is it Different From Traditional Vending?
When people first hear about unattended retail, it would be understandable if they dismiss it as being no different than fancy vending machines. To an extent, yes, they would be right. However, unattended retail takes simple vending solutions into a more technically-evolved landscape where the focus is on innovation. Utilizing technologies such as cashless payments, Internet of Things (IoT), and Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, the potential of unattended retail is much higher than that of traditional vending.
Not only does it allow customers to review the products in person and offer them a quick and smooth checkout, the technology used in unattended stores allows for operators to keep track and monitor all aspects of their machines, including stock, cash monitoring, alerts, and reports. Built-in marketing tools can also allow vendors to implement dynamic marketing campaigns like discounts and happy hours, for a more unique and diverse sales experience.
Risks and Concerns
This is not to say that unattended retail is the perfect form of retailing right now. The technology being utilized in unattended stores is still relatively new and there are some kinks that need to be ironed out to ensure a flawless system. For one, security is still a primary concern for many who are considering this strategy. Amazon Go, one of the first trailblazers for the concept has been noted to have faced a number of security issues with regards to their stores. Some thrill-seeking ‘customers’ have already attempted to shoplift from these stores simply because they wish to dupe the system; with some even being successful. Hiccups in the payment system has even led to some customers not being charged for some of their items. Others are worried about the constant surveillance that they are being subject to when shopping in such stores.