How retailers can add the human touch to digital transformation

In pursuit of digital transformation, retailers can use technology to combine the physical, digital, and human to create a better experience for employees and customers. This article outlines how they can achieve this and what benefits it offers. 

‘The rise of the humans,’ facilitated by increasing levels of automation, is a mantra – and book title – of Dave Coplin, former chief envisioning officer for Microsoft. The technology guru and author makes the case for automation to take repetitive drudgery out of workers’ jobs and liberate human flair in the workplace. Enlightened retailers can now deploy this philosophy in shopping aisles and back-of-house, by using sophisticated scanning solutions on simple-to-use smartphones – for employees and customers alike.

Familiar smartphones using advanced computer vision and augmented reality enable customers and workers alike to digitally interact with physical products, transforming their experience. Simply pointing a smart device at a single product barcode – or an entire shelf of stock – lets customers and staff seamlessly access real-time information that’s delivered as an overlay to their smartphone.

Realize human potential with smart scanning

Blending the physical and digital within brick-and-mortar stores using smart, mobile technology lets employees meet and surpass customer needs and work intuitively in a human, empathetic way. French retailer Auchan is reaping the rewards of an investment to make staff happier and more capable at work by using augmented reality on smartphones. The human resources-led initiative, designed to show employees they are valued, has halved the time they spend on daily processes, freeing up time for clienteling.

Blending the physical and digital to liberate the human has proved a win-win situation for Auchan, with highly engaged employees creating happier customers, too. Equally, the finance chief is pleased that the infrastructure rationalization into a single device drastically reduces hardware, maintenance and security costs. The positive outcome achieved when employees are digitally augmented and enabled to work empathetically and creatively is mirrored by a raft of retail statistics.

Access retail’s sweet spot from smartphones

Research from Retail Perceptions shows 61% of shoppers prefer stores that offer augmented reality experiences: 71% would return more often and 40% would pay more for a product if they could experience it in AR. Another survey revealed 27% of consumers said having an expert to talk to would make a shop visit more worthwhile. A further 29% of respondents surveyed said they would spend more money if a sales associate recommended something to complement their purchase.

Pairing these two sets of findings lands computer vision-enabled AR solutions hosted on smartphones in a retail sweet spot: shoppers gain greater choice and convenience through self-service, and sales associates can help customers better and faster by using a familiar smart device. Add the conclusion of the World Economic Forum’s The Future of Jobs 2018 report – 38 percent of employers wish to create productivity-enhancing roles – and the case for mobile AR is compelling.

Combine digital, physical and human to change the way employees work

Deploying advanced mobile computer vision and AR on smartphones gives employees access to a host of customer-friendly information, putting product recommendations, checkout and wayfinding capabilities literally in their hands. It also puts store workers on the front foot with customers: today’s consumers are often well-informed and accustomed to shopping on their terms, but they still value human interaction, particularly when it comes to advice and inspiration.

Gaining instant access to real-time back-office data is a powerful way to drive cost-efficiency and productivity improvements from digital transformation across retail operations. When every employee has their own scanning smartphone (instead of sharing a pool of costly stand-alone scanners), regular tasks like shelf management, click and collect, and price label verification are done in a fraction of the time.

Think and act digitally in brick-and-mortar stores

Blending digital and physical worlds brings e-commerce directly into the shopping aisle – with workers and customers embracing this new style of shopping and working using apps on familiar devices. Retail automation is orchestrated and made effective by a fresh focus on ‘human experience,’ and user satisfaction breeds productivity gains along with ideas for improvement and innovation. Upskilled, happier employees using mobile tools can deliver outstanding customer service, cost savings and efficiency gains.

Retailers that are using computer vision and AR on smartphones are discovering that it pays to be part of the digitally sophisticated vanguard. Investing in technology lets workers and customers realize their human potential, and the industry, may yet prove to be a shop window for the rise of the humans.

This article was written by Samuel Mueller from Retail Customer Experience. News Features and was legally licensed through the Industry Dive Content Marketplace. Please direct all licensing questions to