Bruised Bananas, Edge Intelligence and AI in the Retail Experience
Jun 24, 2019
Bananas are a sensitive fruit. They bruise easily, both from the natural ripening process caused by ethylene, the hormone found in the peel, as well as from rough handling during transport. Consumers, meanwhile, won’t tolerate bruised bananas. Reasons range from health concerns to an aesthetic aversion to damaged produce. The bottom line: a store that can’t monitor quality risks losing customers.
Grocers, from big-box operations to smaller boutique businesses, rely on customer loyalty and efficient workflows to combat shrinking profit margins. With disruptors redefining purchasing habits, physical retailers need to “smarten” up.
Enter the Internet of Things (IoT). Edge intelligence devices connected to analytics platforms can address issues both big and small – including bruised bananas in the produce aisle. In a grocery setting, a combination of smart sensors, cameras and analytics applications can gauge ripeness by peel color and alert staff members when fruit needs to be swapped out. A sensor can catch bruised fruit more efficiently and accurately than store employees, who may be distracted or prone to just doing a quick high-level check.
An edge intelligence solution also opens up the door to better supply chain management. Analyzing data collected by the sensors allows stores to gauge the quality of produce supplied by different vendors. Assessing inventories against sales helps to optimize order volumes to minimize waste.
By keeping bananas fresh and free of bruises, grocers maintain quality, build existing customer loyalty and create possibilities to win new sales. And while a bruised banana might not seem like a big deal, the smallest details matter to consumers who increasingly have endless produce shopping options.
In other words, something as small as one bruised banana can cost you a lifetime customer.
The potential of edge intelligence extends far beyond protecting produce. Sensors and cameras can generate insights that deliver a wide range of benefits. Examples include alerting workers to clean spills and restock empty shelves, keep track of shopping carts and map shopper activity within a store.
At a deeper level, integrating computer-based reasoning and decision-making abilities with edge intelligence helps retailers deliver a more intuitive and customer-focused store experience. AI-enabled sentiment analysis applications can analyze facial features for emotions such as delight or irritation. These insights can prompt retailers to intervene to make the happy customer’s experience even better, and to resolve the unhappy customer’s issue. Over time, ongoing data collection and analysis enables assessments of campaigns and store displays, deeper insights and continual refinement of the customer experience.
To take another example, let’s say you want to cook a complicated dish like pad thai. You simply ask an AI-enabled smart screen for recipes and where in the store to find the ingredients. The on-screen prompts save you time searching the store for obscure ingredients. You enjoy a convenient and engaging experience and are encouraged to not only return to the store but are inspired to recommend it to your family and friends.
Like a thousand-mile journey, the process of designing and executing a digital retail strategy that integrates smart tools begins with a single step. Here are three to consider:
- Start small: Begin with a specific measurable objective or outcome in mind. This could be a Point of Conversation (POC) device near a popular end cap that measures dwell time. Compare that data to that of a less popular end cap, perhaps in the back of the store. The resulting insight can translate your gut-level intuition into quantifiable data that supports informed business decisions. Thus equipped, you might decide to change out product placement or sell the popular shelf space at a premium.
- Build a foundation: The average U.S. household has no less than 25 loyalty and rewards applications downloaded onto mobile devices. This represents a huge opportunity for retailers to build a foundation for engaging with customers and establishing meaningful one-to-one relationships. Begin by gathering data on customer purchases. Make inferences on preferences and offer discounts and coupons to gauge interest. Provide data to your vendors to strengthen business ties. Through this step-by-step process, you create opportunities to deliver compelling customer experiences – which may involve spending less time in a store, feeling a connection with a brand or saving money.
- Gain insight: Allow logins via Facebook or Instagram to marry your data with profile information for a deeper understanding of demographic data over-laid with in-store data you’re already capturing. By leveraging social media analytics, you gain valuable insights that enhance inventory management, business operations, cost analysis, vendor relations and overall customer satisfaction – all of which lead to more loyal customers and a healthier bottom line.