Voice Control Devices Changing the LandscapeWhen Walmart rolled out across the country with its everyday low-price strategy, it compressed the retail market. Small- and mid-sized retailers had to find ways to differentiate themselves with goods and services that could not be replicated on a massive level. Similarly, Amazon is disrupting and transforming the market with its voice-controlled Amazon Echo. With more than 12,000 “skills” under its belt, Alexa will drive more sales to Amazon’s website as well as its growing brick-and-mortar presence. And those numbers should grow as the number of U.S. consumers actively using a voice-controlled device doubles to more than 36 million this year as forecast by eMarketer.
Mobile Apps Rapid Diffusion Creates a Sense of UrgencySmart technologies delivered through mobile devices may currently be a differentiator. But given their rapid diffusion, smart technologies will soon be viewed as table stakes. The hottest trend in the quick-service restaurant industry is mobile order ahead. Already, one in four U.S. adults have an order ahead app on a smartphone, and 13 percent have more than one. And usage is high, with 18 percent of app downloaders saying they have used their app in last 24 hours and another 29 percent saying they’ve used it in the last week, according to a recent survey by AYTM. If that isn’t enough, Crone Consulting estimates that within five years, mobile order ahead will account for half of sales at quick-service restaurants. Grocery store chains and drugstores are employing order ahead/do-my-shopping-for-me apps. I recently noticed Publix is offering mobile order ahead at their deli, which was once a logjam in the store where I shop. Mobile order ahead is about problem solving for consumers, while also creating stickiness by becoming the “app of choice” through loyalty and rewards. Research by App Annie shows U.S. consumers typically use between one and two shopping apps on average out of approximately 30 apps on their phone, including native ones. To keep pace, retailers must adopt mobile order ahead quickly to make sure they don’t lose out to competitors in the limited space of consumers’ screens.
Robots Take Over Mundane TasksWhen it comes to retail, we can expect AI robots to assume more mundane tasks, from restocking shelves to flipping burgers. In quick-service restaurants, the fry cook turnover rate is already exceeding 2016’s high turnover norm of 73 percent. Consequently, one quick-service restaurant is looking at replacing fry cooks with burger-flipping robots. Flippy will make its debut at Caliburger restaurants by early 2018. But don’t expect Flippy to be – pardon the pun – a flash in the pan. Yum Brands’ CEO even predicts AI robots to replace fast food workers by the mid-2020s.
Where to BeginSmall- and mid-sized retailers can survive the storm of smart technologies. However, these retailers must:
- Become aware of the smart technologies that consumers are adopting – especially millennials, who will make or break a business in the coming years. Customers won’t tell you when they’ve found a more preferred option, so research is necessary to stay ahead of the pack.
- Become engaged. Decide which, if any, existing technologies – e.g., order and pay ahead, kiosk delivery, deliver to the table – are applicable to your business given your line of trade, level of service and customer base.
- Make sure you collaborate with a company that provides the infrastructure and plumbing to support your goals. Although smart technology is designed to make the consumer experience more seamless and frictionless, the payment structure supporting its delivery must have solid technology running in the background.