Humanizing Retail Technology: Always Start with the Shopper

Technology has become an indispensable part of today’s modern retail environment and if used right, allows brands and retailers to ease or augment a shopper’s path to purchase. But to stay competitive, it seems that many stores are introducing tech with the objective of staying up to date, rather than for the benefits of their shoppers.

KPMG summarizes the allure of new retail opportunities: “The new retail world that we have been promised is here. The tools, strategies and technologies required to be successful in this new world are available. The toolbox for success is here, and it’s up to retailers to choose the right tools from the toolbox in order to grow their business.” When Walgreens introduced digital cooler doors that display and target ads based on facial recognition technology earlier this year, they sure dug deep into what is possible. But does it enable shoppers to a more seamless journey, rather than add to the visual noise while shopping?

The same applies to digital shelves, as just introduced by Kroger, displaying price, nutrition, video ads and encouraging shoppers to scan codes to access vouchers and offers. Great technology but does it address a an unmet need of the shopper?

A recent survey shows that shoppers are wary of technology without a clear perceived benefit for them. 58% of UK shoppers think that “emotion detection technology that adapts your shopping experience depending on your mood “is creepy”. The numbers are similar for facial recognition services that recognize preferences and targeted mobile ads based on proximity to stores.

However, shoppers are interested in technology that benefits them on their journey. 50% of UK shoppers think that using their fingerprints to buy and arrange home delivery is cool, as is voice recognition software that helps with product searches and smartphone apps that show product information, videos or flag where items are located in store.

It shows that technology used along the shopper journey should never be an end in itself, but a means to an end. It should be selected and implemented to solve a need along their journey. Personalization and experiences can subsequently be created around that. Many innovations both in and outside of retail approach it the other way around, pushing technologies onto people because they were made possible.

So how can we reconsider our use of technology in retail and ensure a human-first approach?

A great starting point is the work of Amber Case, a prolific American cyborg anthropologist and UX designer. She set up 8 principles to create technology that doesn’t constantly scream for our attention and makes it more useful to people. Among these, she makes the following points:

  • Give people what they need to solve their problem and nothing more
  • Technology should amplify the best of technology and the best of humanity
  • The right amount of technology is the minimum needed to solve the problem
  • Technology should respect social norms

Retail has to adapt to the changing cultural and technological environment to keep relevant and interesting. But it should do so at the speed of people, not at the speed of technology. Technology should be a seamless and almost invisible enabler, not a distracting barrier to decision and purchase. This means starting with human needs and applying technology to address these, not the other way around. In doing so, shoppers might find new tech applications useful and interesting, rather than creepy.


Take a human-centric approach for new retail technology
Technology should not scream for our attention to be relevant. It should solve our problems in the simplest and most unimposing way possible, respecting our social and human norms.

Shoppers favor new retail technology that answers a need
Shoppers are wary of technology without a clear benefit for them along the journey, but are interested in technology that help them shop faster or makes it simpler.

Use the lens of the shopper to find the right technology solution
Identify the barriers and problems along the journey through the eyes of the shopper and implement technology to help them overcome these. Don’t approach it the other way around.

Contributed By: Lukas Quittan, Integer London

Image Source: Unsplash