Retail technology had another mixed year, with some technologies taking great leaps forward while other once-promising technologies had delayed adoption due to changing priorities caused by the pandemic. Will market trends and conditions snap back to the way they were pre-pandemic, or has the market permanently changed? Last year when we surveyed the STS Committee, the members were very prescient, projecting increasing adoption for contactless payments, online ordering and self-checkout. Pretty spot on. A year later, we surveyed the team again to learn what they see on the horizon for 2022 and beyond.
What was the coolest new technology that you saw in 2021?
Mark Bunney: Buy Now Pay Later (BNPL) solutions are gaining interest and traction in the market. This is an updated version of the layaway plans that many of our parents used. The biggest difference is that the consumer now takes the product immediately versus previously having to pay before taking it.
Michel Sirois: Digital signage with touchless screen, antimicrobial films sitting on screens, doorknobs, and new intelligent charging stations for cars.
Uwe von Sehrwald: The emergence of a smart shopping cart. Walking into a store, putting your items in a basket and having it automatically go to tender is all really cool. This will be a game-changer.
Ken Andrews: Robotic product picking for retail. Pretty cool that it can integrate with store shelves and live customers seamlessly.
Kevin Kogler: Technologies that make it easier to pay for things, such as QR codes for touch-free payments offering. This technology allows a user to scan a QR code to quickly pay for products or services without handling a credit card.
What segment of the retail IT market is currently most ripe or change, and why?
Uwe von Sehrwald: The checkout process bar none. There are many large retailers and technology companies trying to figure out how to make checking out easier for the customer. Kroger and Amazon are leading the charge. There will be a transformation in how things are checked out in the next five years.
Ken Andrews: Technology around the grocery industry seems to be the most primed for change. Companies like Amazon, Walmart and Target are pushing harder in these spaces to innovate and pressure the smaller independent operators.
What technologies and services significantly benefited from the pandemic?
Michel Sirois: Edge computing, contactless technologies, kiosks, and edge networking.
Andy Dickinson: Online ordering and delivery. Any restaurant business that was not utilizing these services and technology in February 2020 had to get with the program in a hurry to survive. The relaxed rules on to-go alcohol in certain states also had a significant impact on online ordering, as restaurants can now sell high-margin specialty drinks and cocktails ordered online.
Ken Andrews: We’ve seen a major growth in technology purchases to support cloud-based initiatives. This has led to a lot of ancillary updates such as more powerful firewalls to handle bigger ISP connections, new Wi-Fi to support in-store handheld units and implementation of new cloud-based POS and management systems.
Kevin Kogler: We have seen e-commerce sites for SMB retailers quickly shift from “nice to have” to a business requirement. SMBs found themselves unable to conduct business online when the pandemic hit. Many launched simple sites and now are upgrading to more robust e-commerce platforms that integrate with their store management systems.
Mark Bunney: Contactless payments adoption in the US. The pandemic helped educate and drive consumer adoption of contactless payments based on its safer and seamless experience.
What promising technology is overhyped or failed to launch in 2021?
Thomas Greenman: Cryptocurrency is still overhyped. It certainly is becoming more popular, but it’s still not being used for everyday transactions. I think the real growth for cryptocurrency is in the cannabis vertical, where there are no traditional credit card transactions.
Kevin Kogler: Smart shopping carts. Two years ago, we were talking about the deployments of smart cart systems using cameras and RFID to check people out without scanning individual items. The prohibitive costs of smart shopping systems seem to have limited growth in this area.
Michel Sirois: I find that facial recognition did not meet expectations in 2021. Also, mobile POS did not grow as expected in 2021.
How do you see the Retail IT channel adapting for the post-COVID ‘new normal’ world?
Ken Andrews: We think that e-commerce will continue to grow as customers demand a more seamless online shopping experience. We also see a demand for shipping services to complete the last mile portion of orders as many retailers find the logistics of undertaking this on their own to be daunting and uneconomical.
Kevin Kogler: I think that there will be excess demand for technologies that help shift labor costs fromthe retailer to the customer. Businesses of all types will ask their customers to do more of the “work by using technologies such as ordering kiosks, self-service checkouts, online ordering – and even robotics.
Mark Bunney: The “new normal” offers opportunities for VARs to help merchants improve their business efficiency to cope with the labor shortage. We saw this in the past year in restaurants with kiosks – kiosks didn’t see the market adoption until labor costs increased to where the kiosk ROI became very positive for a merchant to implement.
Andy Dickinson: I think there will be an enormous push for self-checkout and payment automation. Although it is commonplace to see self-checkout at the large grocery store chains and big box retailers, you will start to self-checkout systems in gas stations, convenience stores, and smaller specialty retailers.
Uwe von Sehrwald: The grocery segment will see strong numbers for a few years to come. I think the labor costs and associated issues will prevent restaurants from maintaining quality and service like they used to. This is going to negatively impact restaurants and benefit grocery stores.
When will the frozen retail IT supply chain become unstuck?
Michel Sirois: We expect that the supply chain challenges will remain for a good part of 2022. It is likely that things will not be back to normal until 2023.
Mark Bunney: Everyone is hoping that things will improve in the next year – but I think that this will take time to address since it crosses multiple aspects of the supply chain – from chips to manufacturing to shipping of products.
What emerging technologies are you keeping your eye on for 2022 and beyond?
Andy Dickinson: I will watch how QR codes can be used as the gateway to a new type of POS system enabling people to walk around with a POS system in their pocket that can scan QR codes to order online and pay using a phone. The need for expensive POS hardware virtually disappears, and businesses can run more efficiently with fewer employees.
Uwe von Sehrwald: I will keep my eye on how smart carts will allow stores to operate without cashiers.
Ken Andrews: I will be watching how AI will continue to expand into retail operations and how technologies like VR and AR will impact the customer experience.
Mark Bunney: Use of software-based mobile payment solutions (Tap on Phone and Pin on Mobile) will continue to grow in 2022, and these solutions have the opportunity to evolve mobile payments to the next level in the future.
Thomas Greenman: I will be watching how the growth of utilization-based on-location services via Bluetooth or GPS are will be used in some very innovative ways.
Michel Sirois: 2022 will bring growth in sensors of all types, contactless, edge technology that will improve significantly the retail customer experience in interactive kiosks, and customer assistance systems.
- Ken Andrews, President, Millennium Digital Technologies, LLC
- Mark Bunney, Dir. GTM Strategy, Ingenico Group
- Andy Dickinson, Special Projects Manager, Data Cash Register
- Larry Fandel, Sr. Vice President, FEC POS
- Thomas Greenman, Sales Manager, Skurla’s POS Solutions
- Kevin Kogler, President, MicroBiz
- Uwe von Sehrwald, VP of Sales-East Region, TRUNO, Retail Technology
- Michel Sirois, President, BlueStar Canada