Retail Innovations

(Author : European Supermaket Magazine)
Dutch retailer Albert Heijn has launched a new augmented-reality product scanner, which allows customers to find out more about its private-label products.

Albert Heijn Introduces Augmented-Reality Product Scanner

With a new mobile app, AH Product Scanner, customers can scan a product in stores with their phone camera to receive additional information about ingredients, nutritional values, allergens, recipes, and the origin of products.

New Technology
“Customers find it increasingly important to know what products they buy from us and where they come from,” said Marit van Egmond, director of merchandising and sourcing at Albert Heijn. “With the help of new technologies, we now provide information at your fingertips while shopping.”

In the first phase of this programme, 35 private-label meat and fish products have been included in the app. These products now feature a sticker on the packaging that relates to the AH Product Scanner. The retailer aims to gradually extend this technology to all Albert Heijn-branded products.

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(Author : Laura McQuarrie)
‘Tao Cafe’ is a newly opened 200-square-meter store from Alibaba that opened in Hangzhou, China that offers shoppers a completely self-service experience, as the offline eShopping destination is completely staff-less.

Alibaba's 'Tao Cafe' Takes the eShopping Experience Offline

To make small purchases such as fast food and snacks, consumers must use Alibaba’s Taobao e-commerce app for transactions. Upon entering the store, patrons are scanned and identified with facial recognition technology. When it comes to placing an order, such as for a cup of coffee, one’s profile picture appears onscreen with an estimated wait time. As they leave, shoppers’ purchases are automatically processed via the app.

The launch of the Tao Cafe from Alibaba was designed to show off a “new retail” concept, showing the potential for convenient online shopping experiences to be translated into brick-and-mortar spaces.

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(Author : James Vincent)
British supermarket Ocado conducted its first trials using autonomous vehicles this week;

This UK supermarket could beat Amazon to self-driving grocery deliveries

A UK online supermarket has conducted what might be the first self-driving grocery delivery. Ocado, which has no physical stores and delivers food directly from its warehouses, is carrying out a 10-day trial of the technology on the streets of London. Deliveries are made using a mini self-driving truck developed by UK tech firm Oxbotica. Ocado is hoping to sell its setup to other retailers — including in the US.

“We see it as adding choice,” Paul Clarke, CTO of Ocado’s tech arm, Ocado Technologies, tells The Verge. “There are times when people will want their 50-item delivery brought to the kitchen table; times when they will order online and collect in store; and times when they’re coming back from the airport at three in the morning and just want a few things delivered quickly.” Situations like this are when Ocado thinks self-driving deliveries will come in handy.

This week’s London trial is tightly controlled, but offers a solid proof-of-concept. Oxbotica’s “CargoPod” mini-truck holds eight boxes of groceries (compared to 80 in a regular vehicle) and smoothly navigates three kilometers of residential streets, using the normal combination of cameras and sensors. The vehicle itself isn’t without a driver, though: two minders are sitting inside, one from Ocado and one from Oxbotica, to make sure nothing goes wrong. Customers have been able to order their food online as normal and have to collect the delivery themselves, pressing a button on the side of the vehicle to unlock their crate.

“Reactions have been incredibly positive,” says Clarke. “We offer to bring customers’ groceries to their front door, but they say ‘No, no, no, no: we want to come down and meet the animal!’ That may sound frivolous, but I think it’s important. People can be suspicious about new technology, and getting them excited about it is a big challenge.”

One customer I speak to, Abbah Festus, is a little more skeptical. “It’s cool, but it depends on what you want,” he says. “It feels like going to a self-storage locker. You walk in, you have the keys, you grab your stuff.” Could he see himself using it in the future? “Why not,” he says. “It’s quicker than going to the shop.”

Ocado and Oxbotica say their technology should be ready for commercial use in the next couple of years, but both firms stress that self-driving deliveries are a way off. The concept faces the same challenges as self-driving cars (mainly regulatory hurdles), and there’s the extra burden of making things financially viable for retailers. Nevertheless, both firms say the future of transport is definitely autonomous, and companies need to start adapting fast.

Some companies already are. According to a report from The Wall Street Journal, Amazon — which recently bought supermarket chain Whole Foods — has been looking into the viability of driverless deliveries for more than a year now. The US giant is also interested in drone delivery, and conducted its first real-life trials of the technology in the UK in 2016. Other startups are testing small, wheeled vehicles to deliver takeout and other quick purchases, including Europe’s Starship Technologies and US firm Marble.

Ocado’s plan, though, isn’t just to make the service available to its own customers. It wants to sell its expertise as well. The company’s Ocado Smart Platform offers retailers a stack of different logistical tools to choose from — everything from warehouse robots to shopping apps — and in the future, self-driving delivery trucks might be added to this catalog.

Clarke agrees that the technology is currently in its infancy, but says people need to make a “leap of imagination” to see what’s possible when it matures. “We’re on the edge of quite a radical change to society with regards to AI and robotics,” he says. “I’d be surprised if other retailers are not at least thinking about this. They’d have to be asleep not to.”

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(Author : Katherine Pendrill)
Earlier this year, Taco Bell announced the opening of its first shipping container outpost in South Gate, California.

Taco Bell Has Opened Its First Permanent Shipping Container Outpost

While the brand originally came up with the idea back in 2015 with a shipping container pop-up at SXSW, the newest store is meant to be a permanent location. Taco Bell’s new shipping container outpost is a 1080-square-foot retail space, housed inside a series of old cargo containers. Designed by SG Blocks, the new Tex-Mex restaurant consists of a kitchen, a walk-up service counter and outdoor seating. While the popular Tex-Mex chain is no stranger to creative retail concepts, the new shipping container store is meant to serve as part of a company-wide green initiative to create more sustainable spaces.

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(Author : Dan O’Shea)
Lowe’s has announced its latest Lowe’s Vision mobile app, which leverages Google’s Tango augmented reality technology on the Lenovo Phab 2 Pro, the first smartphone enabled with Tango, to help customers with in-home design needs, according to Lowe’s Innovation Labs.

Lowe's unveils augmented reality app for in-home projects

“The Lowe’s Vision app enables customers to easily measure any room in their home with the touch of a finger, and style it with virtual Lowe’s products in real-time through augmented reality,” according to a statement on the Lowe’s Innovation Lab’s website. “This is a big step forward into our vision for how customers will use these technologies to design, build and enjoy their homes, from the comfort of home.” This latest mobile app comes on the heels of the March unveiling of the Lowe’s Vision: In-Store Navigation app, which is intended primarily for in-store navigation, product search and related in-store shopping functions.

Dive Insight
A video on the Lowe’s Innovation Labs page explains the Phab 2 Pro with Tango technology has multiple cameras that allow app users to create 3-D experiences that show a highly realistic view of how a re-imagined living space will look. That really is the name of the game here, as there is no point in putting augmented reality technology into this sort of mobile app unless it is going to virtually imitate the experience of seeing the products in the customer’s actual home.

Lowe’s has been aggressively developing new technologies, and this isn’t its first augmented reality solution. In fact, just a few months ago Lowe’s announced a Vision app leveraging Tango, but that app was targeted more at in-store navigation and needs.

This app is targeted for use outside of the physical Lowe’s store, and while it’s not described as a mobile shopping app, that’s really what it is. It’s also much more advanced than most mobile shopping apps, allowing users to drop a new stove into a space in their kitchen where the old stove still sits. That’s about as close as you can get to buying the thing, having it delivered, installing it and seen it in the space — except the app takes all the nervousness, risk and mystery out of the equation. If shoppers don’t like how it looks in the app, they can drop in an image of a different stove.

The only negative here is the fact that a lot of people who might want to use the app don’t have the Phab 2 Pro smartphone. Tango is a pretty impressive 3-D technology with a lot of potential uses, and Google is sure to work hard to get it into more devices. (The upcoming Asus ZenFone AR actually looks to have some pretty major implications for retail.) For Lowe’s shoppers, wider availability of this particular app, regardless of device, can’t come soon enough.

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(Author : Retail in Asia)
In conjunction with Lotte Card and Lotte Data Communication, 7-Eleven has launched its first smart convenience store equipped with a BioPay system at Lotte World Tower.

7-Eleven tests hand-scanning Biopay in Korea

BioPay is a payment method that allows consumers to make transactions by identifying themselves with a part of their body linked to a preassigned credit card. It is the first such store to be opened by 7-Eleven in the world, the company said. The HandPay system, in which individuals are recognized by their veins, was chosen over other types of BioPay — such as iris or fingerprint recognition — to maximize convenience, added the company.

Customers place their purchases on a conveyor belt at an unmanned counter, where the items are then scanned 360 degrees to locate their barcodes. The prices are then tallied and appear on a screen. The system will be further improved through an artificial intelligence system that can identify products without barcodes.

The store also has other high-tech features, including a refrigerator that automatically opens and shuts, electronic price tags, a smart CCTV system, and a Smart Safe Cigarette Vending Machine.

Jung Seung-in, president of Korea Seven, said, “7-Eleven Signature, as a premium smart convenience store with a cutting-edge IT system suitable for the fourth industrial revolution, will be remembered as an innovative icon in Korea’s distribution industry.”

Korea Seven is a joint venture by Lotte and 7-Eleven. The 7-Eleven Signature store will be open exclusively to employees of Lotte for the next one or two months as a pilot program before it opens to the public. The company also said that it would make efforts to extend the HandPay system to payment methods other than Lotte Card by the end of August.

While the company refused to reveal specific mid- and long-term plans, the technology used in the 7-Eleven Signature store is likely to be expanded to other subsidiaries of Lotte in the future.

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(Author  : Deena M. Amato-McCoy)
A home improvement chain is taking a page from science fiction to keep employees safe.

Lowe’s employees have a new uniform — a robotic suit

Lowe’s and Virginia Tech have joined forces to develop an exosuit — a wearable robotic suit with lift-assist technology — for Lowe’s store employees. The lightweight exosuit, which is designed to help employees lift and move product throughout the store more efficiently, and aids against muscle fatigue, is being piloted in Lowe’s Christiansburg, Virginia, store.

If the new suit sounds like something found in a science fiction novel, there’s a reason. The idea evolved in the company’s disruptive technology hub, Lowe’s Innovation Lab. One concept within the hub’s narrative-driven approach is the ability for the design team to work with science fiction writers to envision the future, and use storytelling as inspiration for innovative initiatives. The Lab envisioned a future where the use of technology could provide special “superpowers” to employees and maximize performance.

To bring this narrative to life, Lowe’s engaged Dr. Alan Asbeck, assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, and a team of eight graduate and undergraduate students from Virginia Tech’s Assistive Robotics Laboratory. Together, Lowe’s and Virginia Tech designed and developed an exosuit prototype after months of lab testing.

“Our employees ensure our stores are always ready for customers,” said Kyle Nel, executive director of Lowe’s Innovation Labs. “As a way to support them, we found a unique opportunity to collaborate with Virginia Tech to develop one of the first retail applications for assistive robotic exosuits.”

The key elements of the lightweight suit include the reinforcement of proper lifting form, and support for movements intended to make lifting heavy objects easier. The exosuit is designed to accomplish this by absorbing energy and delivering it back to the user, enabling them to exert less force to complete certain movements.

As they bend and stand, carbon fiber in the suit’s legs and back act like a taut bow ready to launch an arrow, helping them spring back up with greater ease. As a result, commonly lifted objects, like a bag of concrete or a five-gallon bucket of paint, feels significantly lighter to the user, according to the chain.

The first four suits are currently in use by the stocking team at the Christiansburg store. During the coming months, Asbeck and his team will work with Lowe’s to assess the physical impact of the suit. Lowe’s will also lead employee engagement studies to better understand the impact of the exosuit on the work experience.

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(Author : Darrell Etherington)
Lincoln is testing a new service for owners of its vehicles that supply a driver on demand. The service is like a very upscale Uber, in which you supply the car, and Lincoln supplies a professional driver – one who is actually a Lincoln employee, not a spot contractor – to ferry you around, return your car to your home, and basically make you feel like a VIP.

Lincoln Chauffeur provides drivers on demand, while you supply the car

The service will launch first in Miami, reports Autoblog, and will let Lincoln owners order up a chauffeur via a smartphone app. The chauffeur will not only be able to drive you around, but will also return your car to your home in case others in the household need to use it, will fill it up if so required, and can even run light errands like picking up some groceries.

Costs, as you might expect, are not cheap: During the pilot program, Lincoln Chauffeur will run around $30 per hour, which is actually not terrible compared to Uber until you remember you have to supply the car as well. On the plus side for Lincoln owners, they’ll get eight hours free of Chauffeur service included in the purchase price of their vehicle.

This is only a limited test at the moment, but Lincoln tells Autoblog that it would like to expand the service to San Diego next, and then additional markets after that. It’s likely a decent challenge to scale, since Lincoln’s actually employing the drivers it’s using.

Lincoln Chauffeur may be a bit of a departure from other mobility service offerings automakers are exploring, which include on-demand vehicle rentals and even white glove delivery of said cars to a renter’s door, but it still sounds like an interesting way to add value while driving new revenue sources in the luxury segment.

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(Author : Deena M. Amato McCoy)
Lowe’s is making it even easier for in-store shoppers to locate home improvement necessities.

Home improvement retailer launches AR in-store navigation app

By tapping the power of augmented reality, the home improvement retailer introduced its Lowe’s Vision: In-Store Navigation app. Called the first retail application of indoor mapping using augmented reality, the app is designed to simplify the home improvement shopping experience.

The solution, which is the newest creation developed in Lowe’s Innovation Labs, leverages Google’s augmented reality technology Tango, allowing shoppers with Tango-enabled smartphones to search for products, add them to a shopping list and locate the product within the store.

Specifically, the navigation tool uses Tango-enabled motion tracking, area learning and depth perception to guide customers through the store using a mixed reality interface. When a customer enters a Lowe’s store, they can use their Tango-enabled smartphone to create a list of their required items in the app and access product reviews and information to make an informed decision. Directional prompts overlaid onto the real-world setting guide the customer to each item using the most efficient route around the store, the retailer explained.

Our research shows that helping make it easier for customers to find products in stores not only makes for a better shopping experience, it allows our associates to spend more time advising on home improvement projects,” said Kyle Nel, executive director of Lowe’s Innovation Labs. “With Lowe’s Vision: In-Store Navigation, we’ve created a more seamless experience using breakthrough technology so customers can save time shopping and focus more on their project.”

The technology will be launched in Sunnyvale, California and Lynwood, Washington stores in April.
This is Lowe’s second app based on Tango. Lowe’s first Tango app, Lowe’s Vision, uses spatial perception to help customers embark on a home improvement project. The technology enables the user to measure spaces and visualize how products like appliances and home décor will look in their home.

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(Author : Weronika Jurkiewicz)
The garment goes from design to shelf in four hours thanks to interactive technology and custom-made robots.

Adidas In-Store Machine Knits A Custom Sweater

Making clothes that people want to buy and cutting the time it takes for new designs to hit the stores are the two major challenges for any fast fashion manufacturer.

With its new pop-up, adidas might have just solve them both. Opened in Berlin, the ‘Knit for Youconcept store lets shoppers design a sweater and get it knitted by the state-of-the-art machines within four hours, not only reducing the trend-guessing from the design process, but also substantially cutting the typical manufacturing time of 12 to 18 months.

The tech-infused shopping experience is innovative in its own right and brings to mind an interactive video game. First shoppers enter a darkened room where different designs are projected onto them with an option to switch between pattern using hand gestures. After choosing the final version, customers move to a computer where they pick the color combination. To ensure the perfect fit, the shoppers can get a laser body scan. The custom-designed merino wool sweater cost 200 euros.

Adidas has been exploring localized production and customization in efforts to sell more products at full price and to bring its operating profit margins closet to its biggest rival, Nike, by 2020. Supported by the German government, the Knit for You pop-up will be used by adidas to evaluate the profitability of the concept, before potentially introducing it in other locations.

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