Use mobile computer vision to blend the digital and physical retail experience

By Paul Davis, VP of Sales, Northern Europe, Middle East and Africa, Scandit

Shoppers today are discerning. They want to know what is in the products they buy and where they come from. They may have dietary requirements that demand no gluten or no dairy. Currently, the only way to find out the ingredients in products is by scrutinising the small print on labels. So, imagine how much easier it would be if you could scan a supermarket shelf with your mobile phone and have the gluten or lactose free products immediately highlighted on your screen. This is not pie-in-the-sky thinking, it is a reality that is likely to be in our shops by the end of this year.

Innovative mobile computer vision technology uses machine learning and augmented reality (AR) to allow objects to be identified, tracked and superimposed with relevant digital information. Customers can quickly find what they are looking for in a shop and assistants can scan entire areas of a store to see real-time inventory data on the display via AR overlay, while transportation and logistics enterprises can read multiple packages in a single scan and have a specific package with special instructions highlighted on the screen. This video shows how it works.

The power of barcode scanning is already evident in the success of self-scan and self-checkout consumer apps. With the addition of AR, retailers and consumers can go beyond barcodes and OCR (text recognition) to digitally identify objects based on characteristics such as colour, size, shape and even the context in which they appear.

This is the concept of ‘the internet of everyday objects’, from food packages and clothing to books and household items. With the right computer vision software and AR, the camera in a mobile device effectively creates a universal sensor detecting the presence of people and things, recognising sizes and shapes of objects, and reading barcodes and text, without the need to embed sensors in the objects, as with the IoT (internet of things). It enables retailers to more efficiently perform retail operational tasks, streamline logistics and offer shoppers personal services like the allergy or ingredients checker.

Given the challenges high street retailers face to remain relevant, mobile computer vision technology offers an affordable and easily deployed platform that can support a digitally integrated store of the future. Solutions that blend the digital and physical shopping experiences are already known to boost customer satisfaction and loyalty. They leverage the ubiquity of the smartphone to enable shoppers to enhance and navigate the physical retail world with a feed of relevant, digital information.

If brick-and-mortar retailers can adapt to create this digital in-store experience, they will add new value to an established but now threatened asset. It should be straightforward. The retail ecosystem is already built around the barcode as the primary source of product information, so by offering mobile shopping apps incorporating mobile computer vision and AR technology, physical retailers can evolve their omnichannel store environment to compete with the strongest online players.

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