findbox – If you’ve ever gone to a big box DIY store with a strange looking screw or bolt in hand, comparing your piece to those in little tiny drawers, findbox is the tool for you.
Findbox is a fixture mounted screen with a camera and image recognition software. Shoppers place their item on a platform under the camera, and the system completes an image search for the item on the platform. The system will then display a photo, name and product id of the item if it is in stock at the store. The system also has the ability to provide shelf tags that can flash a light on the shelf to indicate where the hardware item is located in the aisle.
As a shopper who has searched for small unusual items countless times, this sounds like a wonderful concept and one I would welcome in my local DIY store. Finding someone to help you with one screw is a bother for both parties. If a system can do this quickly and easily, I’m all for it. If it’s accurate, it will probably also save me trips as ideally it’s better at this than I am.
Findbox also enables retailers to own the search results enabling them to highlight found items based on whatever parameters suit their model – margin, product fit, or whatever they wish. The retailer could also look at what is most commonly being searched on the device, and if there are commonalities, that information could be used to modify the display for ease of search, or even highlight other potential sales opportunities for related items for nearby placement.
For the right situation, this solution provides benefits to both retailer and shopper. The retailer can ideally provide a higher level of service for more shoppers with no change in staff, and provide a service at the shoppers convenience to help them find what they need. There is data to be gathered and potentially used for benefit.
The shopper minimizes search time and frustration and avoids the need to find staff to ask a question unless they wish to do so. The system could potentially recommend alternative or related items they may require to finish their job and save them a trip as well.
One wonders if this solution could be taken another footprint, with an app for devices so that users can take a photo of the item and be provided details on local establishments that can supply the item.
Perhaps the logic of the solution can be provided as an API for DIY retailers to include in their own apps. While retailers like Amazon have offered this capability for some time for Books, DVD’s, and more, I’ve not seen it for identifying hardware items.
Contractors who regularly visit DIY retailers may find this to be another useful item on their mobile device to save them time. Virtually no shopper is going to type in a long description full of fractions and measurements to see if it is on hand at a store, but taking a picture to find something unusual would be a great way to narrow the search and save DIY regulars time and effort.
robots – Lowes certainly took the mission of finding that unusual hardware item to heart with a novel twist. The Lowes innovation team and Fellow Robots have deployed a robot assistant in one of their California based Orchard Supply Hardware on a trial basis. The robot has the ability to capture an image of an item that a customer brings to the store, identify it, and then direct the shopper to the right location to find the item they need.
This is an incredible concept, and like all technology solutions in retail , there are many operational challenges to overcome:
- Wayfinding is always challenging within the ever changing footprint of a real life retail store. It will be important to ensure that the data here is 100% accurate on location of products and that any planogram changes are immediately passed to the system that informs the robots. The first time the robot takes shoppers to the wrong item, they will ignore the robot for future visits.
- Some shoppers will not want to interact with a robot for whatever reason. This isn’t a problem, but needs to be understood and accepted. Retail is all about choice. Store staff need to acknowledge this solution isn’t for everyone. They should encourage usage to those who wish to use it. It is important that the staff support the use of the robots in the stores or they will fail. This is key.
- Ruggedization is always a challenge in retail and hardware retail is particularly challenging based on the dirt and types of projects supported. All technology in a retail environment requires some ongoing care and feeding for optimal usage. Solutions with moving parts are particularly subject to failures and require ongoing maintenance.
- Ongoing support of the robots for store staff will need to become part of the daily regimen. Ideally the robots can recharge themselves at a station like a Roomba, but staff will need to regularly ensure that the units find their way to charging stations correctly and validate that they are still in good working order from time to time.
Whether shoppers are ready for robot assistants remains to be seen, it may be a novelty, or it may become common in the future. Either way, it’s great to see new concepts like this being tested in retail!
All channels for retailers are viable from my perspective as long as they provide benefit to retailer and shopper and have an ROI acceptable to both. I for one, welcome our robot overlords, and look forward to one day interfacing a point of sale engine to one of these robots so that they can complete the entire transaction and have us out the door to our self driving cars as soon as possible.