Product location : which solutions for retailers ?

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Locating the products in their own stores is usually a big challenge for retailers.

With products moving from times to times, and store layout changing according to marketing calendar, it can be a tough task to know in real time where a reference is.
Now this is a precious information : thanks to product location, you can drive a customer to this product, but also create a perfect pickup path for team member who prepare a click and collect order. You can even measure the sales performance of some precise parts of your store.
To deal with this challenge, there is no Holly Grail, but some solutions that can achieve partially this goal. With one same constraint to keep in mind : minimizing staff load of work.
The solutions can be split in two categories : the automatic and the manual solutions.

Automatic solutions relying on ESL

“Automatic solutions” means that you are able to get the store products map without any human interaction.
Some are experimental, like flying drones through the shelves to pinpoint out of stocks positions and identify the products thanks to barcode scanning or image recognition.
Another solution is the one we developed with Leroy Merlin (DIY stores) during New Shopping Experience in 2014. It uses the signal emitted by the ESL (Electronic Shelves Labels) to locate the labels, and thus the products. A first concrete application of this project was just settled in the Douai store on a self-service kiosk.
Leroy Merlin product location
An important thing to be noticed is that this technology, even if promising, won’t work with work with only a some type of ESL technology.

Manual solutions using staff geolocation

The other solutions need human interactions. Keeping in mind that indoor positioning is a sector that is, at last, are getting mature thanks for instance to technologies like Maps Connect, BLE, or LIFI, it is now possible to locate quite accurately a staff member equipped with an handheld device, say a smartphone.
You can then ask this employee to scan products, whether it be barcode, RFID tags, NFC tags, or even the ESL itself. If you combine this with motions sensors on the mobile, you can even get a front view of the shelf and deal with other marketing challenges like facing mapping. Which is not possible with the automatic solutions mentioned earlier.
However, the huge disadvantage of this system is that it relies on human interactions, and thus :
– requires potentially a huge workload for big stores
– needs to add in the workflow an additional action when it comes to moving products or changing store layout
Right now, retailers can use downgraded modes, and reduce the number of product references to be located.
For instance, by allowing location of product families only, giving customer a rough, yet useful, indication of the products of one given type.
Another bias is to estimate that loyal customers know the stores and can locate by themselves everyday life products (when you are used to a store, you know where milks are) and may need help to locate only less frequently purchased articles, or products that are at an unusual location in the store, for instance promotions.
That is the solution we created for our client Auchan : a kiosk that allows customers to page-turn the leaflet of the store, select a promotional article and get the store map with product location.
Promotions location kiosk by Phoceis for Auchan

The solution might be in your customers hands

In fact, locating product in their store is a big deal for retailers, but for the time being, there are no magical “out-of-the-box” solution but different ways to address this subject, depending on the level of maturity of the information system.
But things might change. Keep in mind that locating a customer inside your store becomes easier. You can locate him thanks to his smartphone of course. But also thanks to the self-checkout device you provide him. Considering that self-checkout customers certainly scan products just after they pick them from the shelves, you can then link the position and the article. In fact, at the end of the day, your customers do the geo-positionning job for you. This is certainly the most promising approach, with self-checkout usage gaining more and more traction in retail stores !
Interested in digital retail ? Contact us and let us know about your stakes
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