A few months ago my wife and I were sitting at home in the early evening discussing some items we needed for our home. As an Amazon Prime user, I picked up my iPad and placed an order. The next morning when I walked out my front door to get the newspaper, I literally tripped over a box with our order. Somehow Amazon had delivered my merchandise in about thirteen hours—and there were no drones anywhere in sight.
The retail experience is drastically changing right before our eyes, both as consumers and as loss prevention professionals. Today’s Holy Grail is “The Customer Experience” regardless of channel—brick and mortar, e-commerce, mobile, or whatever combination required. Technology is driving the customer demand, and technology is how retailers are attempting to answer the challenge.
I spent a few days in Seattle in August with twenty or so members of the Loss Prevention Research Council’s (LPRC) Future of LP working group, which is made up primarily of retail members who are focusing research on emerging technologies and advanced LP strategies. The purpose of our trip was to tour one of Amazon’s fulfillment facilities as well as Microsoft’s Retail Experience Center.
The tour at Amazon provided a start-to-finish look at the company’s fulfillment process. Starting with receipt of incoming merchandise to picking orders to boxing and shipping, the use of technology was evident. Product is scanned either by hand or automatically at multiple points to ensure inventory accuracy and correct routing of orders. Throughout the operation, various robotic technologies were in use primarily moving merchandise in and out of storage as needed for customer orders.
The Amazon facility was tightly controlled for both security and safety. Multiple metal detectors were used for both visitors and employees entering or exiting the building. Safety vests were worn by the tour members. Vests, eye protection, gloves, and other safety equipment were used by employees throughout the facility.
I came away from the tour amazed at the efficiency, use of technology, and employee focus. They have put in place a combination of process and technology that is successfully meeting their customer demands. However, I still don’t know how they delivered my previously mentioned order literally overnight.
At Microsoft’s Retail Experience Center, the company has essentially built a retail mall inside the facility. Marty Ramos, CTO, worldwide retail, consumer products, and services for Microsoft, provided a lively, energetic tour highlighting numerous technologies currently in use by retailers worldwide.
The demo center featured full-size retail stores and kiosks representing multiple retail environments from coffee shops to electronics stores to apparel, cosmetics, and even convenience stores. Dozens of technologies were in use for customer service, merchandising, retail operations, as well as loss prevention, including Bluetooth and audio beacons, WiFi location tracking, RFID EAS gates, virtual mirrors, mobile POS, facial recognition, and more.
Ramos emphasized that all of the technologies on display are currently in use—not pie-in-the-sky prototypes. What I came away with was an appreciation for all the many tools at the disposal of retailers as well as a greater realization of the enormous challenge retailers face. As our global economy is shrinking our world and consumer demands are exploding, we are privileged to be in an industry that can contribute to the retail solutions needed to meet the challenge.
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