Taking retail to the next level
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Taking retail to the next level

Artificial intelligence and other offerings are transforming the shopping experience for customers and retailers alike, write Sirivish Toomgum and Suchit Leesa-nguanusuk

Customers are required to have the TrueMoney Wallet app with a minimum balance of 200 baht to shop at Lotus's Pick & Go by True Digital unmanned store.
Customers are required to have the TrueMoney Wallet app with a minimum balance of 200 baht to shop at Lotus's Pick & Go by True Digital unmanned store.

The local retail industry is adopting new technologies for a new shopping experience and to power their operations, according to executives of retail and tech companies.

As more advanced technologies become available, consumers are demanding a personalised retail experience.

In July Lotus's hypermarket joined True Digital to launch Lotus's Pick & Go by True Digital -- Thailand's first smart unmanned store -- at Lotus's flagship North Ratchaphruek community centre store.

Customers are required to have the TrueMoney Wallet application with a minimum balance of 200 baht to shop at the unmanned store.

Also in July, Central Retail Corporation (CRC) opened what it described as "the world's first immersive retail platform" to allow more customers to access its products.

Lotus's Pick & Go by True Digital, Thailand's first smart unmanned store, represents a trend of technology adoption by some major local retailers.


Ekaraj Panjavinin, chief digital officer of True Corporation, True Digital's parent company, said customers at Lotus's Pick & Go by True Digital scan the QR code of TrueMoney Wallet and select their items before exiting the store. The system automatically charges customers for the products selected.

"The concept of an unmanned shop fits with consumers' lifestyles and accommodates people in a rush who prefer to shop quickly and conveniently," he said.

Based on a demonstration, it takes a few minutes for a customer to enter the store, select a few items, then exit by paying via QR code.

The shop is preparing to allow other QR code payment systems to be used by the end of this year, Mr Ekaraj said.

True plans to transform the industry through the development of an artificial intelligence (AI) retail platform called "True Virgo AI" into a fully automated system, he said.

The platform connects a network of AI cameras whose functions can be set to accommodate the needs of a new digital lifestyle. The AI cameras can recognise and learn activities in the store to increase accuracy in activity insights.

Items in the shop have digital price tags so that prices can be adjusted in real time, said Mr Ekaraj.

True is aiming for between 50 to 100 customers visiting the shop daily within a few months.

True and Lotus's are considering more unmanned shops at other Lotus's branches after analysing customer responses to the first shop.

He said True plans to extend its Virgo AI platform to other external retail businesses to help them handle challenges such as complex operating systems and labour management.

Monchai Intarapornudom, senior director for operations development at Lotus's, said the unmanned shop has received a good response from consumers, especially younger shoppers.


Natira Boonsri, CRC's chief commercial officer, said the CRC Immersive Retail Platform, with its inaugural project known as C-Verse, displays the company's commitment to understanding evolving consumer needs and trends.

C-Verse is a shopping channel that harnesses cutting-edge technology and utilises generative AI.

The platform integrates offline and online retail, social media, live-streaming and the virtual world, providing customers with a comprehensive and immersive shopping journey.

With C-Verse, customers can use customisable avatars to navigate through an extensive range of products, adding items to their carts and securely completing transactions.

CRC plans to extend the platform to other businesses within CRC. It chose to launch the C-Verse app with Tops Club because the company offers bulky items, though physical access for customers is limited because it has only one branch thus far.

Mrs Natira of CRC and Chawapol Jariyawiroj, president of Huawei Technologies (Thailand), unveiled CRC's immersive retail platform in July.


Vatsun Thirapatarapong, country manager of Amazon Web Services Thailand, the local operating unit of the global cloud computing giant, said customers want more choice, greater convenience and lower prices.

Retail businesses can leverage technology to become more competitive in these areas, he said.

Technology can be used to optimise logistics and supply chains, leverage sales data, optimise shelf displays and reduce operational costs, said Mr Vatsun.

"A one-size-fits-all approach is no longer applicable as businesses need to account for customer behaviour specific to each demographic and customer profile," he said.

"By utilising data analytics, retailers can use customer data to curate a customised shopping experience, and push relevant information to different demographics of customers."

Retail trends have evolved from offline brick-and-mortar stores to the web and mobile channels. Now the trend is moving towards voice-based user interface (VUI), and eventually to zero-effort commerce (ZEC), where technology such as AI, machine learning, data analytics and the Internet of Things will be the underlying enablers, said Mr Vatsun.

VUI accommodates tasks such as product searches or online orders through voice commands, while ZEC allows items to be ordered and replenished by analysing customer data and making suggestions, without any effort from the customer.

The utilisation and availability of customer data is another key factor in how retailers can readily adopt retail technology, he said. Retailers that can monetise relevant data will be the most successful players, Mr Vatsun said.

Physical stores still remain an important aspect in consumers' everyday lives. To strike a balance, an omni-channel approach is needed to handle customers between online-to-offline platforms, he said.

Mr Vatsun said unmanned stores represent a trend in Thailand and worldwide.

"We are seeing great excitement for our checkout technologies among third-party customers," he said.

"From grocers and convenience stores to retailers in stadiums and airports, there are now more than 50 third-party locations across the US, the UK and Australia powered by Amazon's Just Walk Out technology, Amazon One, or a combination of the two, with new locations launching every month."

Just Walk Out detects what shoppers take from or return to the shelves and creates a virtual shopping session. When customers are done shopping, they can leave the store without waiting in line, choosing their payment method for the selected items.

A woman shops at Lotus's Pick & Go by True Digital at Lotus's North Ratchaphruek community centre store.


Paul Srivorakul, group chief executive of Southeast Asian e-commerce enabler aCommerce, said a significant trend in retail technology is the personalisation throughout the customer lifecycle and the omni-channel shopper journey.

Mr Paul said retailers must leverage a multitude of available data points to create experiences and services that are perceived as customised for individual users.

One element of this trend is the rise of retail media for both online and offline. There is enormous untapped potential in retail media in Thailand and in most Southeast Asian countries, he said.

Retail media has emerged as a rapidly growing advertising channel because of increasing concerns over cookies and tracking technologies in digital advertising.

Retail media is the online equivalent to trade marketing in retail, which offers a substantial revenue stream for retailers to offset low retail margins, said Mr Paul.

He said AI and augmented reality (AR) are expected to play a large part in the future of retail technology.

"We already see fast checkout, large offline campaigns and the entire streamlined experience making its way offline with less human interaction. If you think about it, it is pretty ironic that we are looking to create a customised human interaction experience online [where we need more trust], while offline we are moving towards low human interaction. In both cases, human interaction will be replaced by AI," said Mr Paul.

AR enables shoppers to wear a piece of clothing, artificially place a piece of furniture in their living room to see if it fits the decor, or try on new shades of lipstick.

"In the future, imagine being able to experience the scent of a new perfume online. Visualising how items look in real-world settings and exploring virtual stores is revolutionising the way consumers interact with products before making a purchase," he said.


Jimmy Chen, vice-president of Tencent Cloud International, said the global retail industry has been steadily embracing technology to enhance efficiency, customer experience and accessibility.

In Thailand, the adoption of technology in the retail sector is growing significantly because of consumer demand for a personalised retail experience, he said.

In the future, the retail sector will offer consumers highly personalised shopping experiences, driven by AI and data analytics, said Mr Chen. Retailers will invest in more advanced and seamless contactless technologies, he said.

Mr Chen cited an Extrapolate report that found the global unmanned convenience store market is growing, valued at US$67.4 million in 2010 and forecast to reach $1.64 billion by 2028.

Asia-Pacific is the second-largest market for unmanned convenience stores, in part because of an increase in China.

A woman shops at Lotus's Pick & Go by True Digital at Lotus's flagship North Ratchapruek community centre store.


The adoption of new retail technology is usually triggered by the need to address obstacles for consumers or retailers, said Rich Murphy, senior manager at Deloitte Consulting.

For example, the AI-powered technology used at unmanned stores eliminates waiting in line to pay a cashier, while the retailer saves on labour costs.

Adopting digital price labels greatly helps retailers avoid countless hours spent changing price labels on hundreds of products with every promotion, he said. Eliminating this task can improve the productivity of store staff, while the shopper gains peace of mind by knowing they are getting the appropriate price during promotions, said Mr Murphy.

Omni-channel technology can equally benefit shoppers and retailers, said Atiwat Krisintu, director at Deloitte Consulting. If a consumer wants a product that is unavailable at a physical store, an employee can order it from the online store and have it delivered to the customer.

In this way, the retailer does not lose the sale and the customer gets what he or she wants -- albeit a day or two later, he said.

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