When the conversation turns to the latest in-store tech trends, it usually revolves around tablets for sales staff, location tracking for consumers or digital signage. While that is "technology," in the grander scheme, it's not all that high tech. However, there is a new genre of retail technology that is transitioning from research to reality and it really does have potential to change the dynamics of what we've come to accept as shopping.
Call it product displays with vision. The emergence of "smart shelves" — store displays that can see (detect/sense) shoppers — has begun. These units utilize 3D depth sensing cameras (like MS Kinect) to "watch" consumers as they browse for products and make shopping decisions. Combining a number of features that include body positioning, gesture recognition, gaze tracking, facial expression, age/sex analysis, and voice recognition, the potential sophistication and power these systems can have is unprecedented.
Currently, indoor consumer location tracking (primarily via mobile devices) is still in its infancy, leaving much to be desired. Depending on the method used, mobile device tracking may be incapable of knowing precisely where a shopper is standing, and almost certainly can't tell which way they are facing, what they are looking at, or what they are doing. But, through the use of high-res cameras, depth-sensing technology can determine those things, positioning it to leapfrog way beyond rudimentary location awareness.
In contrast to just knowing that a consumer is near the shampoo section and sending them a mobile coupon or playing a commercial on a digital sign, true behavioral analysis can provide detailed real-time information and response, marketing analysis, and display/planogram feedback.
The technology is being scheduled for launch by Mondelez International (Kraft, Nabisco, Cadbury, etc.) in 2015. According to ABC News, the company's stated goal is to "understand how shoppers see, scan, spot, show interest and select products from the shelf in the store."
As is often the case with new consumer technologies, invasiveness and privacy questions come to the fore, so time will tell if brands are willing to risk consumer backlash in the hopes of enhanced shopper marketing opportunities.
It is expected that in most instances this type of "tracking" will be implemented so that shopper data is anonymous; however, it's possible to identify consumers either with or without their permission.
How likely is it that smart shelf technology will gain broad adoption at retail?