Entrance to the Innovation Lab

7 ways shopping will get better by 2020

It’s not just voice and robots. Here’s the cool tech you haven’t heard about yet that’s ready to change the way you shop.

Jan 30, 2018 · 7 min read

Walking around the National Retail Federation’s annual convention and expo provides thousands of examples of retailers “improving the customer experience.” It’s a nice line, but what does that really mean for all of us consumers? NRF’s Sarah Neale Rand reports from the “Retail 2020” exhibit in the Innovation Lab at NRF 2018: Retail’s Big Show, where some of the coolest emerging tech that will shape the near-future of retail is on display.

It’s my lucky 13th trip to Retail’s Big Show, and retail looks a lot different than it did in 2006. But things look different for me, too: In addition to working full-time for NRF, I’m back in grad school and a mother of two. A great shopping experience for me is all about efficiency and convenience, so when NRF’s Vice President of Technology Jason Hoolsema and Tusk Ventures’ Managing Director Seth Webb agreed to give me a tour of the Innovation Lab at Retail’s Big Show, I wanted to see what upcoming technologies were going to make shopping faster and easier for me.

The grocery store experience

Five Element’s DASH Robot Shopping Cart

These days, with two kids under six distracting me, I’m lucky if I only have to crisscross the grocery store twice in a trip. Five Element’s DASH Robot Shopping Cart maps out the most effective route, leads me around the store and stops at the items on my list (no more crisscrossing for me). I pay at the cart (no lines!). Then it follows me to my car and returns to the store all by itself. Sign me up.

Comparing features and exploring products

Spacee’s simulated reality demo

When it comes to buying technology for my home, I could spend days reading reviews, watching demos or looking at products in stores. Spacee and June20 are going to make all that research so much easier. Spacee’s simulated reality uses light projection to make any surface a 3D interactive experience — I can “demo” a Nest thermostat that’s actually just a piece of plastic or touch a table top to interact with information.

June20’s sliding tablet

June20 brings physical and digital displays together with an informative sliding tablet that lets the customer move between products, call up the right information about each product and effectively compare their features. I won’t admit how much time (or how many trips to the store) I spent buying a smart lock a few years ago, but I bet this would have limited my shopping research to 20 minutes. Pluses for retailers: reducing shrinkage, reduced inventory display costs and a content-rich online experience in store.

Take the trip out of the equation

Starship Technologies’ delivery robot

Whether it’s a quick trip to the grocery store for milk or that lunch I didn’t have time to run out and buy, Starship Technologies’ robots are making local delivery easier than ever. I can order last-minute groceries for tonight’s family dinner, and follow the robot online as it navigates to my office. The win for retailers: Packages can be delivered for a fraction of the cost a more traditional delivery service would require.

The right fit — the first time

Volumental’s shoe-fitting solutions

The last time I needed a new pair of boots, I ordered FIVE pairs — multiple styles and sizes — to make sure at least one fit. And of course, I returned four pairs. Volumental is solving that problem. Their fast and accurate 3D foot scanning system and advanced AI ‘Fit Engine’ can recommend a pair of shoes based on individual foot shape, size and preference. Say goodbye to wasted time and energy trying on shoes that aren’t going to fit anyway. The win for retailers: shoe returns decrease 25 percent.

Chris Baldwin, CEO of BJ’s Wholesale Club visits the Volumental booth

Completing the outfit

A cute blue and brown skirt has lived in my closet for (at least) the last year, with no tops to match. It’s all I could think about at FINDMINE and Slyce’s booth. FINDMINE’s machine leaning platform and Slyce’s image recognition tech come together for a “Complete the Look” tool that would let me take a picture of that lonely skirt and see a complete outfit to keep it company. The win for retailers: Both FINDMINE and Slyce’s tools are increasing engagement and conversions.

EverThread’s technology shows products in every possible color

I once made the rookie parent mistake of furniture shopping with a toddler. I was only able to focus on all the options around me for the five minutes I convinced her to run laps around a display couch, and I left empty-handed in the end. Now when I need to buy a couch and want lots of options, I can — from the comfort of my soon-to-be-old couch — turn to a retailer using EverThread and its visualization software. EverThread’s technology takes photoshoots out of the process and lets retailers show products (like the couch I now need) in every possible color. While I’m at it, I might try out a new rug and curtains to match. The win for retailers: Since multiple product views increase sales by 58 percent, this is sure to give conversions a bump. And if I want to make sure my new couch and rug look good and fit properly in my living room (so I don’t have to worry about returning any furniture … no time for that!), ecommerce visualization platform Tangiblee will take care of that.

My mall assistant

Satisfi Labs’ AI conversation platform

These days my trips to the mall are intensely purposeful. I know exactly what I need to accomplish, though that doesn’t mean I don’t need help. Satisfi Labs’ AI conversation platform can be that help. Its chatbot might help me find deals, answer questions about stores carrying certain products and help me navigate right to a cookie shop at the end. The win for retailers (and malls): bringing customers back with a unique experience.

The supply chain that delivers

I’m in awe of my mom and every other woman in history that raised children without the ability to order diapers online, often at 3 a.m., and know it will arrive that day — or at least in the next two days. Add in the days I forgot to buy a textbook before the new semester started or the mitt my 4-year-old needs for tee-ball practice, and some days it feels like magic that the thing I absolutely need shows up on my doorstep. That’s why I was so enamored with Locus Robotics’ warehouse robots. They work alongside people to more than double human productivity. That means the pipe cleaners I need for this week’s science fair are headed my way that much faster. Bonus for merchants: Retailers are already seeing a reduction in operating costs by 30–40 percent.

Locus Robotics’ warehouse robots

I used to think of 2020 as far in the future, but it’s almost here. Most of the Retail 2020 exhibitors I talked to are already working with retailers. That means all the cool technology that makes shopping more convenient and efficient is accessible now. I’m looking forward to all the time I’ll save — maybe I can find room for just one more commitment in my life. Or maybe I’ll just take a nap.

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The National Retail Federation is the world's largest retail trade association, representing all retail formats and channels of distribution. https://nrf.com

NRF Events

Unparalleled education and game-changing ideas from retail’s visionary leaders.