How digital transformations and robotics can serve sustainability

By Toby Pickard, Global Insight Leader, IGD

Toby Pickard on how technology is empowering shoppers, staff and retailers.

What are the main digital transformations shaping the future of retail and how can companies capitalise on these?
Over the last few years, I have seen an eruption of digital transformation reshaping the future of food and grocery retail. However, the main areas that retailers are utilising technology in-store is via shoppers’ smartphones, digital screens and automation.

In the short term, the smartphone is having a significant impact as it can help shoppers, store staff and retailers. I expect to see more retailers introducing quick payment solutions through smartphone apps, which help shoppers and retailers as they don‘t have to invest in hardware. I expect to see these apps go beyond just payment. They will help shoppers navigate stores, offer personal promotions and recommendations, and provide shoppers with information about products, and all of this will help retailers and brands understand in-store shopping behaviour better.

Retailers are investing in in-store digital screens. These range from digital displays as shoppers enter stores, to digital screens within aisles and at shelf edge. These screens can help retailers and brands highlight promotions, new products and seasonal events, along with aiding in-store online pickers, and ensuring products are priced up correctly.

The third area of digital transformation I am seeing is around utilising technology to free up store staff so they can perform more meaningful tasks. Although the technologies and devices will have an upfront cost, they will all aim to reduce long-term costs and hopefully increase sales and/or loyalty, and profitability.

What are the latest advances in retail robotics and what does this mean for labour?
There have been some interesting and impressive advances in retail robotics, from in-store robotic hot dog vending in Żabka in Poland, through to robots being used to meet and greet shoppers, all the way through to robots being used to replenish shelves in stores.

Due to recruitment and retention challenges we expect to see more retailers using technology for mundane and repetitive tasks that were previously done by store associates. In-store robotics should help front of house store associates do more meaningful and value adding

How does IGD see these trends/innovations contributing to sustainability?
Technology is helping industry contribute towards its sustainability targets. For example, numerous retailers are utilising technology to reduce food waste, and advances in packaging innovations are helping industry reduce the environmental impact of product packaging.

How is IGD promoting sustainability and navigating these changes?
IGD has been working with industry for many years to help it try and become more sustainable. We have been running programs to reduce food waste in the supply chain, and are helping industry to create more sustainable packaging solutions.