Retail automation refers to the use of technology to automate retail store operations, from ordering inventory, product display, payment processing, to checkout. Automated stores, also known as smart stores, combine various automation technologies to enhance the customer experience and make in-store operations more efficient.
Retail automation has gone through several waves of early innovation, applied mainly to register operations and checkout. Interest in automated stores has increased in recent years as the technology advanced beyond basic point-of-sale (POS) processes.
Within the automated stores industry, the automated checkout segment has found the most traction as evidenced by the large number of incumbents and disruptors alike. The cashierless checkout trend has already reached convenience stores, grocery chains, and arenas, providing a seamless shopping experience for customers and reducing labour cost. Most players in this space are early stage with products available in the market and going through the process of gaining customers. A smaller number of these startups are at the seed stage and still going through product testing and trials.
Some companies provide both automated stocking and shelving as well as automated checkout solutions. These include industry incumbents like Kroger and Ahold Delhaize as well as startups like AWM Smart Shelf, Focal Systems, Ava Retail, Trigo, and Scandit.
Incumbents in this space are well-established leading retailers operating in both the online and offline segments and adopting a diverse range of retail automation in their stores. A large portion of each retailer’s stores still use more traditional systems, with stages of automation being deployed gradually. Exceptions to these incumbents include players such as Amazon, which has created stores called Amazon Go surrounding the automated experience, using in-house technology. Apart from Amazon, 7-Eleven has also trialed its first cashierless store experience, while largest retailer Walmart is also working on a different kind of automated store.