Smart retailing is the application of tools and technologies to shape the shopping experience. Sensors, artificial intelligence, or mobile applications may be able to help address challenges to sustainability and consumer needs.
When it comes to fresh food, shoppers have high standards. The “ugly food” movement, intended to curb waste of edible but unattractive produce, is a response to those standards. With smart retailing tools like spectroscopic techniques, retailers might be able to avoid offering produce that will be picked over for not being ripe. Using light of different wavelengths that provide a read on certain properties of the food item, a portable detector can report on the food’s quality. With these tools, retailers could better divert produce to in-house preparation before it reaches spoilage, or this technology could allow retailers to price dynamically, based on the freshness.
The next question: can this technology help us to improve our health by allowing us to purchase food at the peak of its nutritional content?
Technology such as QR tags can give shoppers more details on the nutritional make-up of the food on the shelves. Where the packaging real estate is too limited to tell the full nutritional story of a product, a smart-phone interface can help shoppers make more informed decisions. Providing details on the environmental footprint of food might also be an option for processors who want to tell the story of their planet-conscious choices.
Smart retailing is not just about new gadgets. It can be as straightforward as apps and programs that help you plan meals, track your pantry, sync with recipes you’ve saved or locate desired items within the store. Food waste is usually curtailed by meal planning so by purchasing what you need to prepare a meal without getting derailed from your list, and having your pantry synchronized with your store app can help in meal planning and reduce waste.
The next question: how do we use this technology while maintaining security, privacy and best data governance?
DNA-barcoding has already made big waves in the murky waters of mislabelled food. As more tools are integrated into retail settings that can verify species’ identity more quickly, customers confidence in their purchases will grow. There may be a competitive advantage for processors and retailers who can prove the chain of custody using a distributed ledger (e.g., blockchain technology), and assure a shopper that their tilapia is in fact tilapia, even providing confidence in how it was produced and handled.
The next question: are there other distributed ledgers that are less energy demanding, and therefore more sustainable, than current models?
Blockchain and tracing technologies can certainly contribute to a stronger food safety system. By being able to quickly trace back and track forward a food item in the supply chain, recalls can happen faster than ever, and remove food hazards off the shelves more efficiently.
But what about in-store food safety? Spectroscopic technologies and sensors aren’t just good for quality checks. They can help retailers better monitor food that passes beyond safe thresholds.
Keeping shelves stocked is probably still a sore subject after the North American run-on toilet paper in the spring of 2020. But outside of extreme examples, data analysis tools can help retailers keep better track of what’s moving in and out of the store, ensuring both labour and orders are deployed as efficiently as possible within grocery store settings. Smart logistics allows for customer purchasing data and inventories to re-route products.
Smart retailing might also increase food availability. Consumers can purchase products quickly via cabinets and kiosks that use mobile phone to process payments. This could lead to unsupervised stores in rural and remote areas where staffing may be a challenge.
Smart retailing is already reshaping the grocery industry, with more changes to come. Research and practice can help both businesses and consumers develop shopping experiences that account for social, environmental, and economic needs.
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