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Vision-assisted shopping in a Retail 4.0 Revolution

December 5, 2019

Wherever you are in the world, you can’t hide from such retail explosions as Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Singles Day or the dreaded plain old Christmas shopping! You may have noticed technology playing a larger part in your shopping experience in recent times, a development being labeled as Retail 4.0. We take a look here at how computer vision is driving this revolution.

In the warehouse

Computer vision has a role to play right from the start of the supply chain. This time last year we reported on machine vision and smart logistics getting goods moving in time for Christmas. The use of drones in warehouses is becoming a reality and image recognition technology is helping an army of UAVs to count goods, recognize low stocks and issue instructions for replenishing empty shelves. L’Oréal Group has been using Eyesee inventory drones since their successful contribution to the company’s audit in 2018, resulting in a reported six-fold improvement in the efficiency of auditing. Using software such as that offered by FlytBase, drones can also offer advanced item search, allowing orders to be fulfilled faster and more accurately.

In the store

We’ve all heard about the success of Amazon Go – Amazon’s brick-and-mortar stores in which shoppers place their chosen items into their basket and leave the shop without visiting a checkout. This has been enabled by a network of cameras, sensors and deep learning algorithms. Other retailers are using computer vision in their outlets for different purposes. CCTV has been used to deter or catch shoplifters for decades, but new AI software is now allowing many more images to be processed in real time, leading to better prevention. We recently wrote about facial recognition technology and some retailers have controversially used it to identify known shoplifters, alerting security personnel to a perceived risk when the individual is in the store. Last year, point-of-sale giant NCR acquired StopLift Checkout Vision Systems, showing their intention to make checkout processes less vulnerable to scams such as sweethearting, the process by which an employee gives goods away to customers by engineering the mis-scanning of items.

Clarifai are amongst the software providers helping retailers to plan their shop layouts better. By measuring the time that consumers spend in front of certain displays and their path through the shop, and therefore providing data on the optimal shop floor design, Clarifai are turning cameras into a responsive tool in the battle to engage customers. It’s even being suggested that retailers could combine these analytics with GPS data so shoppers are presented with relevant special offers. Imagine walking past a chocolate bar and suddenly your phone bings with a discount code for that very bar – who could resist?

Making it real

Shops are also embracing Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) in their offerings. In 2017, Amazon patented a mirror which uses AR to show customers what they would look like in certain clothes. GeekWire explains how this would work in more detail – watch out for it in a changing room near you! Several retailers have made VR headsets available in their outlets to allow customers to view products in a simulated environment, in different colors or just to supply a bit of fun to keep customers in the store for longer (or allow shopaholics to browse while the partner or children with short attention spans are kept occupied!) Ikea in Germany and Macy’s in the US are amongst those that have introduced the possibility to try out furniture and even kitchen fittings through VR; Ikea’s pilot scheme enabled users to shrink themselves to the size of a child to check the kitchen for hazards, and Macy’s are extending the experience to include an app to try their furniture out at home too.

Vision-assisted marketing

Even if you don’t set foot in a shopping mall, it’s likely that computer vision will influence your Retail 4.0 experience. Technology is introducing “image listening” to help retailers strengthen their brand and put their products in front of the most relevant audience. Platforms such as NetBase identify and monitor the logos and pictures that consumers view on social media and feed this information back to a retailer’s marketing department. Retailers can then better understand how and where their goods are being seen so they can target these channels more effectively. There are plenty more image recognition tools designed to support retail, social analysts Brandwatch lists some of the tried and tested ones.

Computer vision is having a massive effect on the world of retail and new technologies are blurring the line between physical and online trading. However you go about your shopping, be prepared to embrace vision technology in some shape or form to enhance your experience. Want to know more about computer vision, machine vision and image processing? Sign up to our newsletter for highlights or contact our experts. Our range of camera solutions and advanced software can capture, process and manipulate images and video at high speed and high resolution, making them are ideal for a  wide range of applications.