Unlock the Power of Omnichannel Retail at the Edge

6 October 2020


Retail is experiencing a tremendous change as the previously separate worlds of online commerce and instore are becoming more closely aligned, enabling us to move into an era of omnichannel shopping.

Tech-enabled consumers are driving this important change — 81 percent of shoppers now research online1 and then 85 percent2 of those continue their journey instore.

Ecommerce now accounts for 14.1 percent of all purchases and in 2019 this was forecast to increase to 22 percent by 20233. However, the global pandemic has given an unprecedented boost to ecommerce. Online traffic in the supermarket sector increased by 60.7 percent by the middle of June 2020, compared with February4.

While retailers are still assessing the longer-term impact of the situation in our world today, some of the ongoing changes in shopping behavior have clearly been accelerated by the pandemic.

With the global progression into omnichannel shopping, the opportunity for retailers is to safely bring customers closer to their products and staff, and to create flawless personalized retail experiences.

Consumers now expect shopping to be seamless — 51 percent say they will stop shopping at a retailer after just one or two poor shopping experiences5. However, achieving the provision of seamless experiences requires a greater understanding of consumer behavior.

So how do retailers ensure that the wealth of online shopper data is matched with sophisticated data capture instore? And how do they analyse this data and respond quickly?

The answer is technology at the Edge. Retail success is being unlocked by a combination of  Edge computing, data analytics, IoT, Computer Vision, and AI.

The Edge exists wherever the digital world and physical world intersect, and data is securely collected, generated, and processed to create new value. According to Gartner, by 2025, 75 percent6 of data will be processed at the Edge. For retailers, Edge technology means real-time data collection, analytics and automated responses where they matter most — on the shop floor, be that physical or virtual.

And for today’s retailers, it’s what happens when Edge computing is combined with Computer Vision and AI that is most powerful and exciting, as it creates the many opportunities of omnichannel shopping.

With Computer Vision, retailers enter a world of powerful sensor-enabled cameras that can see much more than the human eye. Combined with Edge analytics and AI, Computer Vision can enable retailers to monitor, interpret, and act in real-time across all areas of the retail environment. This type of vision has obvious implications for security, but for retailers it also opens up huge possibilities in understanding shopping behavior and implementing rapid responses. For example, understanding how customers flow through the store, and at what times of the day, can allow the retailer to put more important items directly in their paths to be more visible. And, understanding flow can also help reveal why certain items are being skipped-over or potentially picked up and put back.

There are three powerful use cases for combining Edge, IoT, Computer Vision and AI in retail:

Seamless Consumer Experience & Personalized Shopping

By gathering real-time customer preferences and selection criteria, retailers can provide the type of personalized experience that customers now expect at every touchpoint.

However, to create personalized experiences, retailers have to identify the customer rapidly, and quickly apply relevant shopping intelligence. This requires technology being available where the customer is – at the Edge in real-time. And it requires an ecosystem of products and processes — Edge data collection and analytics, IoT, artificial intelligence, computer vision, augmented and virtual reality — to work seamlessly so the customer finds what they want, when they want it.

And, an electronics retailer might use computer vision, or its application, to identify a customer in-store, and present a special offer via a digital display for an item from their online browsing history.


Advanced Loss Prevention

In addition to customer experience strategies, Edge-enabled solutions now play an important role in loss prevention in retail environments, too. Cameras capture images of shoppers and stream the footage to Edge gateways for analysis. With the correct artificial intelligence tools in place — including Computer Vision, Edge and IoT — systems can automatically detect criminal behavior and issue alerts to security personnel on the retail floor.

By using AI, the technology learns to understand the difference between normal customer behavior and potential unlawful behavior. For example, in a department store, the system can identify a customer putting a pair of shorts into their bag rather than a shopping basket and immediately alert security staff. It can also learn to distinguish between similar items with different prices, such as sunglasses, in order to identify label-switching at checkout.

Predictive Inventory and Supply Chain Control

By using a combination of Edge technology, IoT, Computer Vision and AI solutions, stock levels can be pro-actively maintained, ensuring that the right stock is on the right shelf, at just the right time.

This could be managed using cameras and sensors, or data could be gathered through drone sweeps of inventory with computer vision-based location identification. Additionally, AI algorithms can present intelligent predictions as to what stock will be needed, and automatically inform manufacturers and logistics of expected demand.

Inventory and supply chain control is another natural use case for Edge computing, due to the large volumes of data, the speed required to continually restock inventory and the predictive strategies necessary. Edge computing ensures product availability thanks to real-time analysis of streamed data, and the outcome is customer satisfaction.

Walmart has recently transformed its Neighborhood Market in Levittown, New York, embracing technologies such computer vision and AI. It has seen significant improvements in stock control as a result. You can read more about Walmart’s innovations here.

Dell Technologies is leading digital transformation in retail through advanced solutions that combine Edge Computing, data analytics, IoT, Computer Vision, and AI. To find out more, please visit: DellTechnologies/Edge.  And if you stay on top of the latest tech developments in retail and want to hear about retailers that are embracing winning strategies, you can subscribe to the Winning Retail podcast here.

Today, success in retail is about leveraging the opportunities in omnichannel retail. Dell Technologies ensures deep understanding of consumer needs and the creation of seamless, personalized, experiences across the consumer journey.

Delivering these experiences can be achieved using a combination of Edge computing, IoT, Computer Vision and AI. Investment in the technologies can not only enable retailers to drive sales and revenues, it can help them to secure happier and more loyal customers.

1 https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbespr/2016/05/25/customers-like-to-research-online-but-make-big-purchases-in-stores-says-new-retailer-study/#441b9bc76443


3 https://www.statista.com/statistics/379046/worldwide-retail-e-commerce-sales/

4 https://www.statista.com/statistics/1105486/coronavirus-traffic-impact-industry/

5 https://brpconsulting.com/download/2018-unified-commerce-survey/

6 https://www.gartner.com/smarterwithgartner/what-edge-computing-means-for-infrastructure-and-operations-leaders/