Covid has accelerated the use of technology in store by probably three to four years,” says Duncan Potter, chief marketing officer at Pricer, a company that makes electronic shelf labels. The system allows retailers to change prices in real time, in line with promotions, and labels can also feature flashing LED lights and corresponding barcodes, allowing staff to find stock more easily.

The lights are particularly handy for click-and-collect. Potter says: “What you want is to indicate exactly which [item] a customer has ordered and get it picked within a few seconds, with as few mistakes as possible.” 

For today’s ecommerce-savvy consumers, Potter says bringing the efficiency of online shopping into a bricks-and-mortar store is important. It’s also important for bricks-and-mortar retailers to have similar levels of customer insights to those of online retailers, believes Waqas Hassan, chief executive of Facit Data Systems. His company uses existing CCTV, heat mapping and video analytics to help retailers understand footfall patterns and queue levels.

“We take camera images, and we process that data to find out how many people visited stores, how many actually ended up making a purchase and how many did not make a purchase, which is quite a vital KPI [key performance indicator],” he says.

The tech can also help determine busy times and when more staff might be required on rota, but one of its uses for drinks retailers is to stop shrinkage. The tech can spot when a person is loitering or putting shelf-fulls of booze into their trolley – and then an alert is sent to the store. Self-scan technology has also helped with shrinkage, says Michael Sabrkhany, vice president for global sales at self-scanning company Re-Vision. He says information from both loyalty cards and big data can be used to determine what customers usually buy.

“For example, normally when somebody is buying wine, they don’t buy five bottles because when you buy five it makes sense to buy a whole box – this is what we historically see of customers coming to the store,” he explains. “So, if we see there are five, it triggers a flag for us. And then we track the rest of the basket. If the system triggers a rescan or it asks for an attendant to come in, and the system sees this was wrong, then it automatically adapts for the next service check that they do.”

In-store technology can also step in when it comes to ID. Earlier this year, Bestway partnered with tech specialist Innovative Technology to trial an AI-based age verification initiative across its convenience channel.

Rebekah Ali, manager at Bargain Booze in Otley, says the technology has taken pressure off staff when it comes to asking for ID, “especially for our new starters and younger staff members”.

She adds: “It can be quite uncomfortable for younger staff members to ask customers who are older than them for their ID, but now they can just point out that the machine has flagged that further ID is required rather than having to do it themselves.” Ali says the Challenge 25 campaign has been effective to the point where younger customers already have their ID at the ready.

“The technology has been very helpful in streamlining the process and giving staff support.” This is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to smart retailing. And it’s only going to get smarter.