Robot Associates

Robot Associate: Are retail jobs at risk?

Even though headlines may seem to scream otherwise, the store is not dead. Shopping is a social experience that people want to participate in and that’s not going to go away anytime soon. What is changing is the traditional customer engagement model, as customers now have more information and resources at their fingertips and demand more from their shopping experience.

Today’s stores must encompass both worlds – the sensory experience generally available in the physical world married with the unique and personalized shopping experience common in the digital world. To accomplish this, many retailers are looking to technology and automation to improve the in-store customer experience.

Robots, Automation & Retail

While automation and robots can be a good way to cut overall costs, there is a fine line as to where it makes sense to deploy. Operationally, RFID technology can automate inventory/cycle counts, augmented reality can help with merchandising and floor sets, and blockchain technology can be used to prove authenticity of a luxury good. Areas such as visual recognition and augmented reality displays can enable personalization of merchandise – choose a color, monogram, etc. – to create a custom order and deliver directly to the customer. While virtual mirrors can offer customers the ability to try on merchandise and feel comfortable with their purchase without the merchandise physically being there.

And we are seeing retailers embrace some of these technologies. According to the 2018 POS/Customer Engagement Survey, 41% of retailers plan to utilize augmented reality within three years and 23% plan to utilize virtual mirrors in the same time-frame. These technologies offer further ways to personalize the customer experience in the store. But their best use is as a supplement to knowledgeable, well-trained, technology-enabled human sales associates.

Customer ExperienceCustomer Experience & Personalization

The real-time retail trend of identifying a customer and guiding the customer through the sale via human interaction won’t soon be replaced by automation. The process of customer engagement and personalized context (understanding the time of day, how the customer is dressed, what department they are shopping, if they have a wedding ring, if they are well dressed, etc.), as well as cross-selling and up-selling require a finesse that today’s robotics cannot replace.

However, there are opportunities to utilize technology to enhance relationships by improving associate’s ability to sell to the customers while making them more efficient operationally. Much of the recent automation focus has been on reducing the dependence on cashiers. For example, the elimination of a traditional POS via a “scan and go” technology, allows retailers to redesign their stores and eliminate the classic cash wrap desk to enable more customer-associate interaction and personalization.

While there is a fascination with robots in retail and we are certainly seeing more uses for technology in the store, the adoption will be a slow process with sales associates still a necessary role.

What does the Success of Pokémon Go mean for the Future of Retail?

Pokemon Painting by Joe Lawlor

Pokemon Painting by Joe Lawlor

Has augmented reality (AR) hit the tipping point of user engagement through the success of Pokémon Go leading fans through a virtual journey of capturing digital monsters that navigates through streets and parks of our cities? In a few short weeks, the app has virally spread getting young and old to play along. Hordes of people are descending on parks to capture that rare Pokémon. People are interacting and sharing tips and tricks while walking in search of their next conquest. It is truly amazing how this app has permeated our culture so quickly. While this may baffle some, taking a closer look at the game and the technology offers us a peak into the future of retailing.

Customer engagement through gamification has been a tried and true strategy for retailers to entice customers to engage with the brand. In the past, it was as simple as bumper stickers on a car, scratch off tickets, or being the 100th customer. Now, with AR, retailers can enhance the game, offer a richer customer experience, and learn something about the customer in a fun and engaging way. Instead of flicking virtual Poké balls at digital cartoon characters, AR can be used to help customers learn about products and promotions. In fact, several brands are already leveraging AR. For example, Lego uses AR to show customers what a completed kit would look like, Converse helps customers try on new shoes and Ikea helps customers envision the placement of furniture in their house. While interesting, this is just scratching the surface of the power of AR.

Provided the right format of interaction, augmented reality can provide retailers with a wealth of information about customers’ preferences and behaviors. Retailers will have the ability to see what items are considered in the purchase cycle, see how the customer shops, and gain additional insight on what drives the final purchase. Conversely, AR can help customers by offering product features and benefits, promotions, and even shop the Internet for the best price. In the end, it helps both customers and retailers.

AR has been around for several years, and until now it has been sparsely used by retailers to engage customers. With the success of Pokémon Go, expect retailers to invest in ways to leverage this technology to engage the customer. Instead of Pokémons hatching as you walk your favorite store, you might see a 70% off coupon hatch down the aisle you rarely visit or a discount bubble appear when you scan a technical backpack to learn about its features and benefits. Regardless of what comes next, it is an exciting time for customers and retailers to continue to engage and interact. There is a lot of work to be done from a content and interaction perspective, but the power of AR is now proven as it has a massive appeal among consumers.

Augmented reality is a form of gamification and retailers are realizing the value of gamification to engage their customers. In fact, according to BRP’s 2015 CRM Survey, 87% of retailers plan to use gamification to engage the customer within five years.

With that said, you’ll have to excuse me, I’m off to catch Pikachu at the local mall.

I appreciate you insights on this topic.  Please share your comments below.


Shopping Trends for the 2015 Holiday Season and Beyond

“Consumer spending is expected to be up 4% for the 2015 holiday season – what are you doing to ensure your customers are willing to spend more with you?”

Holiday Trends Cover ImageThis blog post is an executive summary of the BRP INSIGHTS: Shopping Trends for the 2015 Holiday Season and Beyond. For more in-depth coverage of the 2015 holiday shopping trends, I encourage you to read the full report.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year for shoppers – and retailers too! Consumer spending is poised to increase year-over-year from 2014.

In a 2015 Gallup holiday spending intention poll, consumers estimate spending an average of $812 on gifts this season – up 4% from the $781 estimated at the same time last year, and the highest estimate since 2007. While they have higher discretionary income, consumers are still frugal and price sensitive. Consumers are smart about their holiday spending and continue to search for the best value.

Halloween is the New Thanksgiving

BlackFridayConsumers don’t have to wait until Black Friday or Cyber Monday to get the best deals. For most retailers, discounts and holiday hype began right after Halloween on November 1. And the deals don’t stop there, as discounting is continuing throughout the season. This may cause many consumers to shop around, or postpone their purchase, until they find the best deal.

With stores offering deals throughout November it becomes less imperative to have a blowout Black Friday… or even be open at all. REI announced it would close all of its 143 stores on Black Friday. In an email sent to stores they wrote, “Instead of reporting to work, we’re paying our employees to do what we love most—be outside.” Gamestop and Staples have also announced they won’t open their doors for business on Black Friday.

Retail Impact

In this competitive market, retailers must offer deals throughout the month of November and not focus solely on Black Friday or Cyber Monday to hit their numbers.

Retailers Think “Click-and-Mortar”

Many retailers are gearing up for the most omni-channel holiday season yet.

  • 25PercentOffTarget – With 25% of sales predicted to be fulfilled trough shipping from a store or order pickup, Target hopes to add value and establish itself as an omni-channel leader.[1]
  • Toys“R”Us – Specifically targeted to kids, the Great Big Book of Awesome” catalog now features the ability to have an interactive experience – bringing toys to life within the app and playing in virtual reality mode.
  • Lands End – Typically an online and catalog retailer, Lands End opened pop-up shops in New York and Boston to complete their multichannel experience.

These are just a few of the holiday examples where retailers are honing in on an exceptional customer experience that integrates clicks and bricks.

Retail Impact

The market place is competitive and retailers realize that in order to capture their share of consumers’ wallets, they need to expand and emphasize their omni-channel offerings.

Shopping on Mobile Devices Continues to Accelerate

MobileShoppingMobile influence and contribution to retail sales will ramp up this holiday season. Retailers featuring their best deals on Thanksgiving will surely see an influx of mobile purchases as customers shop right from their couch. According to Adobe, 51% of retailers’ website traffic is predicted to be via mobile on Thanksgiving and 29% of Cyber Monday purchases are predicted to occur on a mobile device.[2] While customers are “webrooming” on their mobile devices on Thanksgiving, keep in mind that more than two-thirds of shoppers who browsed online ultimately bought in-store during last year’s holiday season.

Retail Impact

Shoppers can easily opt to use their mobile phone on Thanksgiving Day rather than fight the crowds at stores. Brands that do mobile right will win customers’ loyalty and future sales.

EMV Processing Creates Longer Checkout Experiences

EMV_ChipThe EMV confusion has already been begun. As a customer is checking out, she naturally swipes her card and the cashier notices that the card is chip embedded so they instruct her to insert it instead. The customer fumbles for a second, maybe questions the process to the cashier, then inserts the card and has to remember to leave it in until it has completed the longer than expected process. Aside from being an unfamiliar operation, the push-and-pause method takes longer than the swipe and is expected to negatively impact checkout line this holiday season.

Retail Impact

Retailers with trained store associates familiar with the push-and-pause EMV transaction process for its customers will be a step ahead of retailers that are unprepared. Retailers who have missed the EMV deadline will be liable for fraudulent transactions, but at least they will have the fastest checkout lines!

Retail Processes Will be Tested

OmniChannelThis past year has brought an influx of technology advances that have been embraced by consumers and gradually adopted by retailers – mobile payments, EMV, guided selling, flexible ordering and pick-up/delivery options, endless aisle and many more capabilities. With so many new retail practices and processes and the busiest season of the year approaching, retailers will be tested. There is a collision of many new processes that retailers need to properly train associates and customers to conduct in a high-pressure environment.

Retail Impact

Retailers could witness mayhem if they don’t train staff accordingly and prepare their systems for increased demand. System fumbles not only frustrate shoppers but cause retailers to lose customers for life.

Beyond 2015: Real-time Retail and Personalization are Critical

50PercentOffConsumers’ holiday shopping experiences will transcend all channels and they expect immediate products and services. Real-time retail is the ability to deliver a seamless experience to a consumer whenever, wherever or however she chooses to shop. According to BRP’s 2015 POS/Customer Engagement Benchmarking Survey, retailers are focused on expanding their real-time capabilities to deliver the personalized experience their customers now expect.

Real-time Features Enhance the Shopping Experience

Retailers that can provide associates with customer data in real-time before checkout are able to provide a more personalized experience and can offer suggestions to customers that impact their purchase decisions. According to the BRP survey, within 3 years 510% more retailers will know what is in their customers closet and provide this information to sales associates in real-time. In addition, personalizing the shopping experience by understanding the customer’s online browsing history will increase by 1060% over the next three years (from 5% today to 58% in three years).

Personalized Promotions and Pricing

In the past, retailers’ pricing hierarchy was based on various levels: company, division, channel, zone and store. Now there is a new pricing strategy and structure at the personal level – based on individual shoppers. According to the BRP survey, 174% more retailers will be offering personalized promotions/pricing in the next three years.

Retail Impact

While real-time retail may not have as much of an impact on the 2015 holiday season, the need to offer customers a shopping experience that transcends channels will increase dramatically. Those retailers on the forefront of this offering will have a competitive advantage and attract and retain more loyal customers.


With an expected 4% increase in spending this holiday season, retailers have a prime opportunity to exceed the expectations of current customers and impress new shoppers to convert them into loyal customers. The holiday shopping season, which now extends from November 1 through Christmas, is less dependent on the traditional sales spikes of Black Friday and Cyber Monday. While this provides nearly two months of promotional opportunities, retailers still need to captivate the attention of consumers with a steady cadence of creative campaigns.
While this season will be “in the bag” before we know it, it is critical to reflect on the successes and failures that come out of this holiday season to improve the capabilities and processes for future holiday seasons. The 2016 holiday season is less than a year away – will you be ready?

I encourage you to read the full BRP INSIGHTS Report.

DOWNLOAD NOW:  Shopping Trends for the 2015 Holiday Season and Beyond

As always, I appreciate your opinions and feedback on this topic. Please share your thoughts below.



[1] CSA, How Target is going Click and Mortar this Holiday, November 2015

[2] Adobe Digital Index, 2015 Online Shopping Predictions, October 2015

VIDEO: Retailers are Shifting to Cloud based Solutions

We are seeing a dramatic increase in retailers’ interest in cloud-based software applications.

Watch this video blog post to hear how many retailers are moving to complete systems on off-premise cloud servers.

Visit our BRP Videos page to watch videos on other topics.

For more information on virtual POS, check out this white paper:

Virtual POS Is Retail Ready – Are You Ready?

As always, I appreciate you thoughts on this topic. Please enter your thoughts and comments below.


VIDEO: Networks – The Enabler for Real-time Retail

Network technology has improved tremendously in the past few decades.

The banking industry leveraged the networks in the 80’s and 90’s to install ATMs and completely changed the consumer banking experience.

There is a huge opportunity for retailers to leverage the network and mobile devices to engage with consumers in a new way – it’s real-time retail!

Watch this video blog post to hear how networks changed the banking industry and they may change the retail industry.

Visit our BRP Videos page to watch videos on other topics.

For more information on real-time retail, check out this report:

BRP SPECIAL REPORT: Real-time Retail – The New Retail Imperative

As always, I appreciate you thoughts on this topic. Please enter your thoughts and comments below.


VIDEO: Virtual POS is the Future for Retail

There is a growing trend of retailer moving to centralized POS that will eventually lead to the death of traditional, retail-hardened POS. According to the 2015 BRP POS/Customer Engagement Benchmarking Survey, 29% of retailers plan to implement a cloud-based POS platform in the next few years.

Watch this video blog post to learn how retailers are improving security and reducing costs with a virtual POS platform.

Visit our BRP Videos page to watch videos on other topics.

As always, I appreciate you thoughts on this topic. Please enter your thoughts and comments below.


VIDEO: Order Management is the New POS

We are seeing a trend where retailers will be moving away from traditional POS solutions to an order management based POS solution. Watch this video blog post to learn more.

Visit our BRP Videos page to watch videos on other topics.

As always, I appreciate you thoughts on this topic. Please enter your thoughts and comments below.


Seeking Retailers’ Opinions – 16th Annual POS and Customer Engagement Survey

Customers want a personalized seamless shopping experience – we all know that – but what does that mean for retailers? What are retailers doing to offer their customer the shopping experience she wants, when and where she wants it? These are some of the areas that BRP’s POS/ Customer Engagement Benchmarking Survey addresses this year.

This is our 16th year for this industry-leading survey and it is interesting how the survey has changed through the years.  When we first started the survey, we asked questions about “cash registers” and whether retailers were looking at expanding to the Internet. Now we are asking retailers about offering customers the ability to use her own mobile phone to purchase items in the store! And with pervasive data breaches impacting all retail segments, payment and data security has become a retail imperative.

In addition to the core questions on traditional point-of-sale hardware and software, the survey has continued to expand into the key topics that are top priorities for retailers, including:

  • Customer experience and personalizationSuvey Checkboxes with Computer Mouse 01
  • Mobile POS
  • Virtual POS
  • Payment security
  • Order management
  • Unified commerce

Please share your opinions

Our POS/Customer Engagement Benchmarking Survey is open now so please take a few minutes and give us your thoughts today:  TAKE SURVEY HERE.  The results of the survey will be compiled and analyzed and we will release the final report at NRF’s BIG Show on January 11th, 2015.  If you are planning to attend NRF please plan on stopping by Booth #1230 to say hello to all of us and find out what retailers are doing now and in the next few years to engage the customer and personalize the shopping experience.

We appreciate your input and look forward to seeing you at NRF.

Why Move to Virtual POS?

The opportunities available to retailers through the virtual POS model are exciting and the benefits are significant. By eliminating the need to install and run the POS application on a server at each store, a significant burden of software maintenance, ongoing operation, and support is alleviated. Here are a few of the benefits of switching to a virtual POS system:Hand-coins

  • Reduced initial hardware costs: With virtual POS, retailers can utilize existing equipment and/or less-expensive equipment in the store because less processing power is needed at each location. In addition, hardware updates or refresh programs avoid the need for a mass replacement of de-centralized equipment in order to keep up with processing requirements.
  • Reduced deployment time:The ability to utilize existing hardware and deploy new software from a centralized location can significantly reduce the time needed to deploy a new POS environment.
  • Simplified hardware maintenance: With less hardware at the store and more of the processing performed at the data center it becomes far simpler and less expensive to maintain hardware.
  • Labor savings: Fewer POS IT and infrastructure support staff are needed to maintain and support applications, resulting in significant reduction in annual IT and store support costs. Studies have shown that every company that used on-premises server-based software applications has to hire one on-site IT support person for every 50 employees. With Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) solutions, almost all of these customer-incurred support costs are eliminated. This can also be translated to a lean or thin client POS deployment
  • Simplified software upgrades: Upgrades can be completed at the data center and may not need to be pushed to the store.
  • Simplified PCI and PII (Personally Identifiable Information) compliance: Under PCI, credit card data is immediately encrypted and removed from the store over the secured credit authorization network. By segmenting it from normal transaction data and with special handling, compliance can be maintained. Similarly, by moving PII up to the data center, a more rigorous data security plan can be put in place to afford the protection this data requires. It is much easier to secure data at one location (centralized) than at 500 or thousands of locations.
  • Better business agility and flexibility: Retailers have the opportunity to deliver critical applications in a much more flexible manner than with the traditional in-house, server-based systems. Flexibility becomes increasingly important to larger retailers who can become more nimble as they can add new applications more quickly because they no longer have to deal with individual store server-based constraints.Virtualized POS WP Cover Page
  • Reduced telephone costs: The ability to utilize VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) as a telephone option can reduce the costs at the store-level for the individual lines.
  • Increased customer service: The ability to implement Customer Wi-Fi hotspots as a customer service can enable
    social networking within the store at faster speeds, simplify communication to your customer, and enhance customer loyalty.
  • Reduced training costs: The ability to use video training helps reduce training materials, which are often outdated, at the store locations. Also, changes completed at Corporate or at the data center can be available for the stores to view immediately.

Are you ready for virtual POS?

For more details on virtual POS, check out this white paper:

Virtual POS is Retail Ready – Are you Ready?


MICROS Acquisition Makes Oracle #1 in Retail POS – How will SAP Respond?

Retail is a focus industry for both Oracle and SAP – Share your opinions on the impact of the Oracle acquisition and what you think will happen next.

Store Front Sale_CroppedWith the pending acquisition of MICROS, Oracle will become the new leader in retail POS software according to our 2014 POS/Customer Engagement Survey results. Oracle’s largest acquisition since it acquired Sun Microsystems in 2010 demonstrates the attractiveness of industries it considers to be ripe for technology transformation and growth.

This move sparks several questions that are worthy of debate:

  • What changes in technology make retail/QSR/hospitality attractive enough for Oracle to invest $5.3 billion?
  • How will the combination of Oracle and MICROS truly benefit retailers?
  • How will SAP respond to this move? Will they make a similar acquisition, and if so, what company would be a good fit?

We would like your opinions on these questions or other feedback you have on this topic. Please respond in the comments section below.

Here are some thoughts from Boston Retail Partners’ executives:

“The retail industry is on the verge of a significant transformation from a customer engagement and technology perspective, which makes it a compelling investment opportunity for companies like Oracle,” said Walter Deacon, Principal, Boston Retail Partners. “Consumers will expect real-time retail capabilities that deliver a seamless shopping experience wherever, and whenever, they shop. Oracle’s addition of MICROS store applications, combined with its existing enterprise, analytics, eCommerce and cloud capabilities, hold the promise to offer a complete solution making ‘real-time retail’ a reality! A key determinator of success, will be the integration of the two companies’ commerce technologies.”

“Oracle has extensive capabilities and experience in enterprise retail software and the addition of MICROS expands its portfolio to become the de facto leader in retail POS software,” said Ken Morris, Principal, Boston Retail Partners. “With the advancements made in network reliability, virtual POS applications are prime for adoption in the retail space. Networks are ready to change retail as we know it – just like they transformed the banking industry with ATMs. With Oracle’s robust enterprise cloud infrastructure, it is well positioned to extend its cloud capabilities to retail store applications like POS.”

“Oracle and SAP have been fierce software competitors in many industries and retail is a key battleground,” said Ken Claflin, Executive Vice President, Boston Retail Partners. “It will be interesting to see if SAP responds with a similar acquisition or adds new capabilities that differentiate them from Oracle in this competitive market.”

Please add your opinions and comments below…