Will battery power energize retailing performance?

Discussion
Getty Images/LDProd
Jul 14, 2020
Adrian Weidmann

Battery technology has continually powered evolutionary change across all aspects of society, ever since Italian physicist Alessandro Volta invented the very first battery in 1800. More recently, Apple’s introduction of the iPhone in 2007 and other battery powered devices have forever changed the retail landscape. Right now, battery-powered devices are the unsung heroes of an ongoing digital revolution that includes electric vehicles, drones and the vast spectrum of Internet of Things (IoT) devices. Estimates put the number of connected devices in the world today at 50 billion.

We live in a nanosecond world where batteries have fueled shopper expectations for mobility, immediacy, flexibility, transparency and sustainability along the entire shopping journey. Almost every aspect of our lives is facilitated by a connected mobile device. How many of us long for the day when our mobile device will last an entire week before needing to be recharged?

Evolving shopper expectations continue to drive retailers to adapt. Merchants, knowing the continuing value and importance of the physical store to success, are constantly challenged to match e-commerce strategies with in-store experiences. To that end, retailers have been experimenting with and testing a wide array of in-store technologies, including digital signage, electronic shelf labels (ESLs), radio frequency identification (RFID) technology, video analytics, robotics, beacons and automated check-out. Just think of all the technologies required to deliver the “Amazon Go” automated store experience.

While wireless data transmission and communication have become ubiquitous, many technologies require AC-power and are therefore constrained by access to 120V — a rare luxury in a large store. The operational and infrastructure constraints as well as the installation and implementation costs associated with powering in-store technologies have limited their acceptance and use. The cost of running a single AC-power drop to a specific floor location can be $1,200 – $1,500.

Many European retailers, including Carrefour, Marks & Spencer and SPAR, have adopted the use of battery powered ESLs and E-ink (digital paper) because of their respective sustainability benefits. Many other battery-powered  devices are focused on improving supply chain efficiencies and addressing retail’s operational challenges and, if the past is any indicator, we’re just getting started.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: In what ways do you believe new battery and wireless power technologies will influence retailing in the near- and longer term? Are there any specific applications that you think hold the biggest potential — supply chain, marketing, customer experience, store operations, etc.?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"As technology has continued to push into the physical retail space, powering it has been one limiting factor. "
"The new normal of connected everything coexisting with socially distant salad bars is going to push retailers to re-evaluate smart technology investments."
"I believe that battery power and 5G will finally deliver the promise of real-time retail."

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10 Comments on "Will battery power energize retailing performance?"


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Oliver Guy
BrainTrust

So many of the technologies needed to digitally transform a retail store and retail operations in general rely on battery technology. Inventory scanners, shop-floor robots, beacons and customer scanners are all examples. In addition there could well be other areas that as battery technology improves become more easily adopted – for example a smart shelf that did not require a fixed power supply could be implemented without a complete store redesign. In the supply chain too, the ability to monitor products in order to understand the provenance of products could be enhanced in this way.

Jeff Weidauer
BrainTrust

As technology has continued to push into the physical retail space, powering it has been one limiting factor. The real barrier to broad deployment has been the technology’s lack of effectiveness. While adding AC drops is expensive once a store is built, adding them during construction is much more cost effective. That hasn’t been done because most of the in-store tools like ESLs or end cap video displays don’t deliver benefits over time.

Ken Morris
BrainTrust

I believe that battery power and 5G will finally deliver the promise of real-time retail. We have been mired in a 50-year-old paradigm where we are constantly looking at yesterday’s data. Inventory is through last night not now/today/this minute so we constantly disappoint our customers on their journey. We limit the creativity of our marketing so we communicate with them when they are not in the store rather than real time where we can make a difference. I’m sick of ridiculously long receipts that promise a discount or reward on my NEXT trip. With longer battery life and 5G we will be able to revolutionize the customer journey to be whatever we and our customers want. Whether it is social significance, sustainability, environmental impact or diversity of a customer’s journey we will be able to bring that journey to life by leveraging these enabling technologies.

Dave Bruno
BrainTrust

Very interesting article and point-of-view, Adrian! I suspect that as battery life continues to extend, apps that fuel remote device installations will extend and expand as well. The possibilities for value are limited only by the imagination of retailers and their software developers. I am excited to see what the future holds!

Rachelle King
BrainTrust

Retailers will continue to push the boundaries between traditional brick/mortar and the technology-powered brick/mortar. It’s been happening for years, but in pockets and with little scale. The new normal of connected everything coexisting with socially distant salad bars is going to push retailers to re-evaluate smart technology investments.

Electronic shelf labels (ESL) hold the potential for both sustainability benefits and communications efficiencies and, may be a good place for curious retailers to start. It’s no surprise that industry giants like Kroger and Walmart have already been exploring this space with pilots and in-store tests. While costs and infrastructure certainly require lofty considerations, so do the long-term benefits.

Harley Feldman
BrainTrust

Smartphones will become the center of the user’s experience in almost all activities including shopping. Apple was just granted three patents which will more entrench smartphones as the center of user identity with fully encrypted connectivity. As this happens, smartphones will be used and accessed more frequently driving up the battery and wireless power technology requirements. In retail, the smartphone will become the center of all shopper commerce. All applications will continue to move to the use of the smartphone to market to, support the product sale and delivery for, and the communications to and from the retailers’ customers.

Patricia Vekich Waldron
Staff

ESLs, RFID etc. have all been around for decades, but have not been widely adopted because of costs. Batteries have the potential to remove barriers and costs related to physical installation and power connection. This will enable retailers to operate and communicate in real-time, giving customers up-to-date information on inventory position.

James Tenser
BrainTrust

Forget batteries. Wireless power is the true game-changer for retail. The tech is already viable, safe, secure, and cost effective. ESLs, inventory scanners, sensing devices, mobile phones, even power-hungry digital signage can be supported.

I asked a variety of ESL and sensor manufacturers about this potential at NRF last January. Most were aware of wireless power tech, but resistant because their current offerings depend on the use of batteries or wiring tracks. It will be interesting to see how quickly they can adapt in a wireless world.

Ralph Jacobson
BrainTrust

Battery technology is just one of the energy sources of the future. Solar, wind, hydrogen and other technologies need to be considered when investments are being made.

Chester
Guest

It’s well stated that we live in a nanosecond world where shoppers have expectations for seamless connectivity along the shopping journey. As mentioned by Adrian, many components such as ESLs and RFID technology and fixed digital signage are pervasive in retail environments. However, politely interrupting the shoppers’ journey by placing digital signage in strategic locations has not been done for large format displays with 12-16 hour run times. Overcoming these constraints would allow vitally important information and branded messaging relevant to shopper’s health and safety to be placed directly in their shopping path, making certain they actually see the message.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"As technology has continued to push into the physical retail space, powering it has been one limiting factor. "
"The new normal of connected everything coexisting with socially distant salad bars is going to push retailers to re-evaluate smart technology investments."
"I believe that battery power and 5G will finally deliver the promise of real-time retail."

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