When you think about the classic brick-and-mortar retail store, perhaps the last thing you think about is modern technology. It’s true – we have been conditioned to consider e-commerce as the future of retail and physical stores as some relic of the past.
In reality, retail stores are here to stay, but the experience is constantly changing to incorporate more digital elements. One of these is the cloud – the virtual foundation for many advanced technologies we use, from the phones in our pockets to our doorbells.
Interestingly, the cloud is also the virtual foundation for the physical retail store in many ways, from enabling cloud-based point-of-sales solutions to AI vision for automated checkout. Keep reading to explore three of the ways that the cloud powers the physical retail store.
Automated Checkout via AI Vision
How many times have you walked into a store and wanted one item only to discover a long line to check out? A better experience would be to find the item in question, and simply walk out of the store, right?
Cloud-hosted AI vision (also known as computer vision) services can help make this a reality. For example, a technology services provider like Wizeline can create a solution using services from AWS, Google, and others to leverage low-cost cameras to identify the item the customer is holding, identify the customer, and integrate with your existing e-commerce platform for payment execution and inventory updates.
Leveraging cloud-based AI image recognition services allows you to quickly implement a scalable solution that has a high level of recall, precision and accuracy. Image recognition services from leading cloud providers have been trained specifically for image recognition, through deep learning neural networks, which provides a solid foundation to build upon. Adding a specific corpus of images to these services is well documented and easy to perform. In this use case, the items are known images, and we prefer using supervised learning to train the AI service to recognize store items.
In closing, while some brands are focused on creating custom image recognition systems, there are many solutions on the market that are ready to implement and experiment with. Regardless, the cloud has greatly accelerated the time it takes to build a working image recognition system.
Checkout Anywhere in the Store with an Associate
A challenge that many retailers face is the capital investment needed to maintain and upgrade their point of sales (POS) systems. However, even with the updated hardware and software, they are limited in that the POS is stationary.
What if an associate can help a customer with an item and then execute a purchase transaction right after they help a customer? Services like AWS Greengrass, Azure IoT Hub, and Google Cloud IoT Core can help. Here’s how it works.
A retailer that uses these cloud services can keep its existing POS (Oracle, Manhattan, Revel, and Lightspeed are some examples) and augment it with a low-cost cellular enabled handheld device. Any of the above mentioned cloud services will offer a small, lightweight operating system that can be managed by the provider. The IoT device can be centrally managed once the operating system is installed and the device is registered. The IoT service will manage operating system and application updates, ensure that all communications are encrypted, alert if the device has been tampered, authenticate and authorize users, troubleshoot device and application issues, etc.
As a result, Wizeline can set up the cloud IoT service following industry best practices, create a DevOps pipeline for application updates, and develop a custom application that can interface with the existing POS to process transactions. In turn, associates on the floor can help customers complete their purchases without the need of a standalone POS system!
Retail “Store in a Box”
One of the challenges retailers face is deploying the necessary technology to support a brick-and-mortar location. This can span everything from the POS to the key card access system to cybersecurity software to wireless access point controllers.
All of these technology requirements increase the complexity of opening new store locations and managing existing ones. What if there was a “box” that you could ship to a location, give it power and network connectivity, and have a fully functional store?
AWS Outposts offers this possibility and Wizeline can help create the software environments that run on top of it that are needed by the store. AWS Outposts is a fully managed technology infrastructure solution that allows a customer to deploy, manage and monitor the technologies that power the store. AWS Outposts does this through the use of unique AWS hardware technology to make sure that the devices can not be tampered with and that all data stored on the devices is encrypted.
Additionally, AWS Outposts creates a secure connection between itself and the Cloud so that all communications between the Cloud and AWS Outposts are encrypted. As a result, retailers can reduce not only the complexity of their in-store technology deployments but also lower their costs. “Store in a Box” can be a reality, and Wizeline can help retailers get there.
Using the Cloud as a Tool for Retail Store Transformation
When retail & consumer brands think about cloud computing, the first thing that comes to mind are servers, storage, and network capabilities. However, the major cloud providers have expanded their portfolio of services to fuel many existing, well-known, retail store-oriented technology solutions as well as potential custom solutions. In other words, cloud providers have higher-level offerings that can help businesses accelerate the implementation of their technology initiatives – even those focused on physical locations.
To be successful, in-depth expertise in these higher-level cloud services is required in order to leverage them in a creative manner to solve complex business problems. Cloud computing isn’t the only answer, but it is the foundation that Wizeline can use to help retail & consumer customers achieve their objectives to increase revenue, reduce costs, and improve the customer experience.