San Diego-based Qualcomm’s IoT unit has been working toward transforming retail for over three years now, and this week the company presented its vision of a tech-enhanced retail shopping experience at NRF 2022.
Previously, Qualcomm’s retail technology ventures involved growing businesses around industrial handheld devices and point of sale terminals. “And now we’ve broadened that scope a little bit,” said Art Miller, VP and global head of retail IoT at Qualcomm.
To broaden its IoT (Internet of Things) scope, Qualcomm is looking at how technology enhances the customer experience, empowers and improves operational efficiencies. “We think that’s a big part of getting this technology to truly be adopted,” Miller said.
Meeting a Changing World
Retail has changed over the years, and recently with challenges brought on by the COVID pandemic, retailers are looking to new solutions for a variety of issues in supply chain and labor shortages and competition from online retail.
“There’s all of these headwinds in retail that we believe that these impacts can be minimized or completely solved in some cases using technology,” Miller said. He described Qualcomm’s role in meeting those challenges “a one-stop-shop with our technology roadmap” because single, propriety solutions won’t be able work to scale up to solve the issues on their own.
Qualcomm, he added, is in unique position to take an industry-wide view at solving these problems. “No one technology will solve it all,” he said, adding that solutions are possible through multiple networks, multiple technologies and how these networks and technologies interact with each other.
Retail Experience of The Future
Qualcomm-powered technology will enhance the shopping experience in several ways.
In the shopping aisles, shelf displays will be able to add more about products, like allergy information. If a product is out of stock, customers will be able to scan a QR code and have the product shipped to their house. Stores will be able to make real-time recommendations for customers – like those that pop up for online shoppers ¬- by tracking information on their shopping habits through smart carts and other information-gathering technologies.
“As long as it’s a relevant experience and it’s not intrusive I think you’ll see people opt in and enjoy that,” Miller said.
Technology that tracks a product’s end-to-end supply chain and alerts a store of new shipments, and tech like freshness sensors for produce will allow stores to discount products and sell them instead of letting them go to waste.
“We throw away roughly half of what’s harvested or grown or pulled out of the sea and we can start to do some interesting things in respect to a green aspect,” Miller said.
Already Employed in Payment Devices
At the point of sale, Qualcomm smartphone technologies are already used in payment devices made by companies like Clover, Square, SunMe Verifone, enabling easy adoption of new practices in self-checkout, curbside pickup and unattended retail. Qualcomm is unique because it connects different technologies developed by other companies to make systems work together.
“We actually created a reference platform using one of our high-end Snapdragon devices to re-create self-checkout,” Miller said. The new platform includes existing loss prevention, scanning and whole UI features plus added tech to recognize the user, voice interaction and optic detection for items like produce.
“Working with Qualcomm Technologies allows us to extend the functionality of our Clover point-of-sale and business management platform through emerging innovations and enable businesses to deliver a new era of retail experiences for customers,” said Clover senior vice president of product and design Ellen Linardi.
For outside the store, Miller said technology will be used for things like identifying cars as they pull up and alerting sales associates to load items into cars of customers who order curbside pickup. The technology can also be adopted to have drones deliver items.
“As drone technology becomes more readily adopted, we see one of the key industry verticals being retail,” said Tim Kustka, head of global sales and partnerships of FlightOps. “It is all about convenience, expediting the purchasing process and also the retailors and consumer aware they are contributing to a greener environment.”
For sales associates and warehouse workers, future tech will include augmented reality glasses that work with smart shelves to quickly show where items are to be stocked, or where to find them when fulfilling an online order for pickup.
“If you start thinking about the scale at which we have associates filling orders on our behalf, it’s massive,” Miller said, adding that the tech will improve picking efficiency by as much as 30%.
By using IoT in robotics, items being stocked can be brought to associates at the correct isle and save them from having to go back and forth from back storage areas.
“We see this broader vision of technology not replacing people but technology allowing people to be doing what they should be doing in a store, which is helping the rest of us shop,” Miller said.
Future Business Opportunities
To capitalize on the retail of the future, Qualcomm hopes to serve as a “kind of system architect, trusted advisor” that can provide a dashboard across multiple technologies when retailers find a gap they can’t fill.
“That’s a new thing for Qualcomm and that’s something we believe is necessary to be relevant to execute — we need to be more involved than just that chip sale,” Miller added.
Despite the news of retail stores shuttering, Miller sees the retail store market for tech as a good business for Qualcomm as the industry changes from its current model into a blend of traditional store and automated fulfillment center. Currently, he added, there is almost zero penetration of tech into that market. “So even if [retail] were to shrink, which we don’t believe it is, it’s still a massive opportunity for us.”
CEO: Cristiano Amon
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Notable: Walmart CEO Doug McMillon recently called Qualcomm “an important strategic partner.”