Transforming the Retail Sector One Image at a Time
Retailers and consumer packaged goods (CPG) manufacturers spend billions of dollars every year on technology that helps them better understand market trends, brand performance and customer experiences. Their investment delivers visibility in almost every part of the supply chain, from inventory and stockroom, to marketing and EPOS. However, it is at the last mile – the crucial point when products reach the shelves and many customers make a decision – where the technology runs out and visibility drops to near zero.
This black hole, where neither retailer nor manufacturer can see how customers interact with a product, impacts many aspects of business for both parties. For manufacturers, the shelf is where they have the least control over how customers engage with their brands. Not being able to see how their products are being presented, or what competitors are doing in-store, reduces the ability to identify and act upon opportunities to boost market share. For both parties it makes the process of negotiating agreements archaic, complex and reliant on data gathered via a manual inspection process that can never deliver impartial data and is subject to human error.
However, things are starting to change. Artificial Intelligence, specifically image recognition and deep learning, is now being employed in the retail sector to address those very challenges.
Using this type of technology, manufacturers can take photographs in-store on a smartphone and convert them into detailed information about the on-shelf reality, within minutes. And for the first time, manufacturers can quickly and accurately see the truth about brand, category and store performance.
They can use a standardized, scalable and rapid approach to capture data about their brands and their competitors, inside a range of retail environments, from large supermarkets to roadside stalls. When knitted together and analyzed through deep learning techniques, that data delivers a clear picture of the whole marketplace and ability to generate very accurate predictions that can inform the strategies they deploy.
An example of where this data is critical is emerging markets. These areas are a huge opportunity for most major CPG manufacturers but they are also the least understood, and present the greatest number of challenges for gaining market share. AI technology is quickly moving from research labs into the hands of manufacturers, underpinning new methods for understanding the reality of what happens to brands in the range of shopping environments customers use in developing markets. The manufacturers who harness the power of these new technologies will be the ones with the clearest view of the market, the most informed strategies for growth and have the greatest chance of getting ahead of their competitors.
This scientific approach to gathering and analyzing on-shelf data has and will deliver fundamental changes in the way the retail industry operates across the world. With accurate eyes on store shelves for the first time, the whole sector is improving its understanding of the in-store levers that influence brand, category, store and market performance in each retail environment. And, armed with accurate and consistent data, manufacturers and retailers can facilitate mutual profitability in all stores.
So yes, there is a retail revolution happening and you better start taking notice. Real-time shelf analytics is finally ringing up the curtain on exactly what happens between the back room and the cash counter of retail stores and at a scale never imagined before.