In our Amazon-Primed world, the future of retail is not ten years from now; it’s “tomorrow.”

So GMDC, the association of retailers and brands who supply them, has formed a program called Retail Tomorrow to turbocharge the supply side with consumers who are already demanding convenience, immediate (or “soon”) gratification, and health where she/he “is.”

That’s personalization, and that’s where retail health can and is making a difference in Everyday Peoples’ lives.

In our DIY culture, we’re pumping our own petrol, making our own airline and hospitality reservations (from Expedia to Airbnb), trading stocks online, and cooking at home enabled by meal-kit subscriptions.

Consumers also take health into their own hands when they can, especially motivated by convenience, cost, and control.

This morning at the “Retail Tomorrow Wake-Up Call Breakfast,” Mark Ciccone, co-chair of the Retail Tomorrow program, read industry headlines from just the past few weeks that illustrate the fast-changing landscape for retail:

1. Millennials surpassing Boomers in numbers
2. Google opening its first store
3. Whole Foods expanding Amazon Prime, totaling 38 market
4. In the wake of Toys ‘R Us closure, Walmart hiring a 6 year old key influencer for the toy business – a social media personality with an $11 mm website, 15 mm followers, and one billion views a month
5. Kroger testing autonomous vehicle delivery
6. Small format stores accounting for $1 trillion in business
7. 20% of smartphone shoppers using an app to order grocers, up 50% from last year
8. Amazon planning to build an airborne drone fulfillment center, in a vertical skyscraper design
9. P&G, the world’s largest advertiser, saying consumers hate advertising so the industry must reinvent it to stay relevant to shoppers.

These big things have been announced in just the last month. This is the real-world rationale behind GMDC’s formation of the Retail Tomorrow vehicle that will bring members in touch with practical innovation.

To that end, two entrepreneurs showed off their developments for innovating retail. Lindon Gao, co-founder of Caper, demonstrated a new autonomous retail concept. Think “Amazon Go,” and take this to a smart shopping cart. Amazon Go is the bricks-and-mortar store that has no checkout clerks — it’s all self-checkout, and has helped us redefine how we think about physical retail, Lindon explained. “Remove the cashier component, and customers can come into the store, grab what they want, and leave. The technology is so cool, it feels like stealing,” he quipped.

All well and good — except for the 200 over-head cameras that track the shopper everywhere she goes. “You can’t get away from the cameras,” Lindon critiqued, nor from the formidable computational limitations. Even though Amazon is among the largest cloud computing companies in the world, tracking every moment and bar code takes a lot of storage and processing capacity. Lindon noted that the Amazon Go store cannot handle more than 40 people at a time with accuracy. [As an aside, while Lindon said this, I was pondering the potential for edge computing to play in this scenario. Another post for another time].

So, how to solve this for a retailer that operates with over 20,000+ square feet physical stores, requiring over 6,000 overhead cameras and hundreds of thousands of shelf cameras? That huge infrastructure has an impossible ROI to realize.

Enter Caper.

Caper takes the conventional technology — the grocery cart as a platform device — and powers it by AI to enable cashier-less retail. It’s quite simple — as Lindon said, let’s not over-engineer the solution. A customer selects an item, scans a bar code, and ultimately pays and leaves the  store.

Caper is leveraging the scan data, and the millions of scanned images to help train the machine learning algorithm. “This is like what Tesla is doing for self-driving,” Lindon explained.

Currently, Caper is enabling a scan-less version which works by the shopper simply tossing an item into cart. A video demonstrated a shopper placing a box of pasta into the cart (as “penne” and the price flashed onto the screen), then a bottle of vinegar, and so on. Caper is enabling the Amazon Go experience without the Amazon Go infrastructure, Lindon believes.

Caper has renovated the cart, not the store. What happens, happens inside the cart, with three cameras and multiple sensors that detect the shopper’s items.

Services surround this experience: Caper will push real-time recommendations to shoppers, like recipes, or a steak sauce for the beef the consumer has placed in his cart.

The second innovation was presented by Carlie Clough of Sampler, based in Toronto. Through Sampler’s Trendsetter Panel, there’s the opportunity for retailers and brands to close the loop on emerging trends and provide product samples to hyper-targeted consumers. Sampler is already working with over 150 retailers, including but not limited to Albertsons, Kroger, Southeastern Grocers, Target, and Wegmans, among others.

For retailers, a key challenge with limited physical shelf space is how much real estate to allocate to new things emerging in the heatlh-beauty-wellness market, like clay masks, cricket powder, and collagen energy drinks.

By doing digital sampling, Sampler collects consumers’ data and provides the retailer insights supporting rational decisions on what new products to adopt, in what markets for which customers.

Some important challenges face retailers in this scenario: 95% of samples go to untargeted consumers, and there’s no way to measure ROI on sampling nor the ability to re-market to a consumer who likes that new product. Sampler helps the retailer or brand, “continue the conversation with the consumer,” Carlie explained.

The Trendsetter Panel comprises consumers who opt-in to the community, through focused online channels like Greatist, Prevention, Bundle, Delicious Living, Momtastic, and Totalbeauty. These are highly targeted audiences. The consumer creates a profile (e.g., Mom, weekend athlete, coffee-drinker, managing diabetes, special diet, color-treated hair), and Sampler matches brands to their target market. The consumer then selects samples they want to try, completes a shipping form, and a warehouse picks a personalized sample box that goes to the consumer’s home.

Say, for example, a brand wants to send 10,000 samples to Millennial Moms shopping at Whole Foods in New York City, all interested in Paleo diets. Sampler makes that happen through the Trendsetter Panel, delivering feedback to the brands and retailers on emerging categories that are important to consumers.

Health Populi’s Hot Points: Retail Tomorrow will be convening stakeholders in Toronto on 2nd-5th October 2018 collaborating with Google Sidewalk Labs, working in partnership to re-develop the city’s waterfront in Smart Cities mode. Attendees will be brainstorming retail’s role in Smart Cities’ developing for health and wellness.

Caper and Sampler have the potential to bring so much to the consumer-retail health table, for the benefit of patients, caregivers, and families. I’ve envisioned, written and spoken about the concept of a smart shopping cart for health and medical management for several years, brainstorming this with AI-enabled companies and retailers alike. The algorithm embedded in a Caper cart could, for example, be trained to enable a person dealing with diabetes or heart disease to curate a healthy food selection, along with OTC products to optimize self-care. Sampler could similarly channel products to people dealing with any number of self-care-appropriate conditions, from acne and allergy to leaky gut, pain and sleeplessness.

Welcome to Retail Tomorrow, which consumers keen on health, beauty and wellness really, really want Today based on their Amazon-Primed immediate experience benchmark.

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