Gabby Nguyen | 3min read

Computer Vision in Retail
​Part 1: Reshaping the future of retail store

Welcome to the era of future technology, in which Artificial Intelligence (AI) is sweeping through every sector of the economy. In recent years, AI and its incredible application: Computer Vision (CV), have been revolutionizing several industries, including retail. CV is enhancing shopping experiences profoundly and transforming the future of the stores forever.

E-commerce and its big question: Do we need more retail locations?

There is one sector in retail that is seriously booming: E-commerce. E-Commerce is growing at an unprecedented rate all over the globe. According to Business Insider, online sales makes up 9.1% of all retail sector and will continue to slowly take market share from brick-and-mortar stores. Today’s customers only need a smartphone connected to the internet to get whatever they want. Instead of driving to the nearest store and risking that your favorite products might be out of stock, you have another choice: open the app and order it directly from e-store. As a matter of fact, e-commerce and its convenience has simplified the shopping process.


The advent of online shopping caused a major disruption in the retail industry. However, it was never realistic to claim that brick-and-mortar retail is dead. With the new tactics of giant retailers and numerous types of retail store, customers are being offered wonderful experience that they wouldn't receive when shopping online. In particular, computer vision in retail will enable more personalised and smooth experiences. The future store will combine the dynamism and the personalization of online store with the human interaction and tangible experience of shopping in-person.

New shopping concept: Retailtainment  

Retailtainment, or “inspirational retailing", refers to a growing trend in retail that’s meant to deliver enticing in-store customer experiences. In other words, retailers will utilize the ambience, emotion, sound and activity to get customers interested in the merchandise and in a mood to buy. Today’s customers can get everything they want online, but in-person shopping will always have the advantage of human interaction, gorgeous space, and the feel of a busy store with attractive products.

Computer Vision is taking retailtainment to the next level by allowing customers to imagine themselves using their products with augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR). Many retailers choose to embrace this technology to attract customers and tell their brand's story.

For instance, in March 2019, Sephora has introduced their new AI-powered digital mirror, which can “read” the shopper and make the shopping experience more relevant and fun. With the support of AR technology, this mirror can offer personalized recommendations to help customers choose products that fit their physique, age and preferences. More and more cosmetic retailers are applying VR/AR technology to design their own unique experiences and create competitive advantages. Another example is Farfetch's mirror. This smart mirror allows you to order sizes and try different sizes without leaving the dressing room.

Find more information about Sephora’s AI-powered Digital Mirror in our article:

Making shopping less transactional

Shopping can be the most time-consuming experience that you’ve ever had. Not to mention your endless list of things to buy, you may have to queue all day for payment. As a result, giant retailers has decided to utilize CV to solve one of the biggest shopper’s pains and one of the key reasons why online shopping soared – checkout.

Let’s take a look inside Amazon Go's first NYC store: no cashier, cash register, or even self-service checkout. You simply walk in, grab what you need, and go. Amazon bills your credit card as you pass through the turnstile on your way out. Moments later, an app in your phone provides a receipt detailing what you've bought, what you paid, and even how long you spent inside. Amazon Go is the high-profile example of using computer vision to automate the transactional parts of shopping.

In Asia, cashierless store is also not an unfamiliar concept. The Chinese company BingoBox already has 300 stores in thirty cities across the country that don’t require employees. In Japan, JR East was the first company to attempt this innovative concept. The "Touch To Go W/ Kinokuniya" store is the first shop without a cashier or cash register, and opened in JR Akabane Station, Tokyo. As a customer, you must tap your IC card to identify yourself. Then, take the products you want to buy and put them in your bag. At the exit, a screen will show you a list of the items you have selected and, if you agree, just tap your IC card again to deduct the total cost from your card.

The new concept of free checkout store allows employees to spend less time on inventory and transactions and more time acting as personal consultants for shoppers in the store.

Giving More Context to Products

First announced during Google I/O 2017, Google Lens is an image recognition technology designed to bring up relevant information related to objects. For example, when directing the phone's camera at a product, Google Lens will attempt to identify the object or read barcodes, QR codes, labels and text, and show relevant search results and information. Therefore, packaging and tags can become much simpler, and information about items now lives online where it can be updated easily and offer even more information.

According to Logikk’s article, computer vision even allows retailers to analyze shoppers’ sentiment. If someone looks unhappy or confused, it’s possible to send an employee to help. In Japan, SoftBank telecom uses in-store robots to greet customers in over 140 locations. These robots can perceive human emotions, solve common issues, and summon employees as needed.

Computer vision has made a large impact on retail industry and changed the way we shop. In the next part, we will continue discussing the use of computer vision in retail industry and the way it reshaping customer experience. Stay tuned for our latest insight article about computer vision!

Reference: The Next Scoop, Tech Target, Logikk, CNN Business, Tech Native, Japan Experience



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