Applying Digital Twins to the Retail Sector

Applying Digital Twins to the Retail Sector

By Simon Turner, CTO at Altius

In the first part of this series, which introduced digital twins, I discussed how Altius is taking digital twin technology way beyond its traditional parameters by integrating artificial intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML) and new technology to bring data, algorithms and business context together. So let’s look at some of the exciting applications we’ve been able to apply our unique approach to.

Our work within the retail sector is probably the best way to illustrate just what we can achieve within the realms of digital twin technology. We’ve all been hearing that brick and mortar shops will disappear entirely. But according to the Office for National Statistics (despite alarming headlines on the demise of the British high street) online sales still only account for 17% of total retail sales.

Retail today

The clear majority of retail purchases are still being made in-store and central to recovering footfall is the experience the retailer provides. Navigating physical stores, finding products and getting the required information is key to the in-store consumer experience  – all of which can be streamlined, improved and made more experiential by utilising data and the latest technology.

Depending on which supermarket you usually shop at, you’re likely to be familiar with self-scanning technology. More and more stores are enabling their customers to tally their chosen items with a phone app or store device as they roam the aisles. It’s faster, simpler and allows customers to track their spend as they go.

Of course, keeping customers happy is critical to competitive advantage, but the benefits are two-way. Self-scanning requires less manned checkouts, freeing up staff for more value-added tasks, and the data relating to purchasing habits that HQ receives from each scanner or app is invaluable.

Digital twins in retail

That’s all well and good, but we’re currently expanding this concept. We’re working with retailers to create real-time digital representations of their stores – the floor plan, the products on the shelves and even the positioning of staff. The opportunities to then add value to the customer experience and to deliver business advantage are incredibly exciting.

Customers using a retailer’s app could log in upon entering the store. Bluetooth beacons throughout the store could identify where the shopper is and guide them to the items on their digital shopping list. As more data about the customer is received and modelled over time, and more is learnt about their shopping behaviours and habits, the more tailored we can make their shopping experience. For example, if an individual is known to be a ‘grab and go shopper’, then we can show them the most direct route to their shopping items, perhaps with a short diversion to products that we know they like, but haven’t purchased in a while.

Other shoppers might be diverted to brands and products that data science predicts they will like, and promotions and offers can feature as ‘real time’ alerts when a shopper is in the right location. Of course the aim is to encourage shoppers to put more in their basket, but at the same time there is plenty of ‘value add’ activity for the customer. For instance, it will be possible to suggest products that will complement the items that they have in their basket – we could even go as far as pairing wine with food items!

Integrating technologies for innovation   

To speed up the checkout process, facial recognition technology for alcohol approval is already being trialled by the likes of Tesco, Asda and Morrisons. But there are other products and items that currently slow the checkout process down. Loose items that don’t have a digital barcode, such as bakery goods and fruit and veg, usually requires more input. We’re currently working on training cameras to automatically recognise these items.

With the introduction of 3D, Time of Flight (ToF) depth sensing cameras, the applications to integrate this kind of technology are endless. It’s even possible to train cameras to recognise when specific stock is low and shelves need replenishing, or when queues are forming and more tills need to be opened.

Where digital twin technology and your IoT data could take your business, has got to be the next question. Understandably a lot of organisations struggle to comprehend and recognise the massive opportunities available to them. One thing is for certain, in this digital age, it will be those organisations with vision and an appetite to change that will transform and succeed.

And that’s where we can help.  If you’d like to find out more about how Altius is broadening the scope of digital twin technology and how we could apply it to transform your business, then we’d love to hear from you. Get in touch.