The weekly Retail Tech Roundup compiles technology news across the supply chain, manufacturing, retail, e-commerce, logistics and fulfillment sectors.
This week, select solutions introduced at the all-digital CES 2021 and NRF Big Show are highlighted, alongside retail technology announcements from around the industry.
At CES 2021, General Motors (GM) revealed a new business line, BrightDrop, which will offer an ecosystem of electric first-to-last-mile products, software and services to empower delivery and logistics companies to move goods more efficiently.
The business, which is part of GM’s ambitious $27 billion bid to become a leading electric automaker, is launching with two initial offerings. BrightDrop’s electric pallet, the EP1, will be available in early 2021, and its electric light commercial vehicle, the EV600, is expected to be on roads in late 2021.
FedEx Express has already completed an EP1 pilot program. During the pilot, FedEx Express couriers were able to effectively and safely handle 25 percent more packages per day with the EP1s included in its vehicles. FedEx Express couriers shared feedback that the EP1s “were easy to maneuver and reduced physical strain,” according to GM.
The EP1 is a propulsion-assisted, electric pallet developed to easily move goods over short distances, such as from the delivery vehicle to the customer’s front door. The EP1 is engineered to reduce package touch points, costs and physical strain on delivery drivers. EP1 features and benefits include built-in electric hub motors with adjustable speed up to three miles per hour depending on operator’s walking pace.
The pallet carries and secures approximately 23 total cubic feet of cargo and has a payload capacity of 200 pounds and even includes adjustable shelving to organize content.
BrightDrop’s second product to market will be the EV600—an electric light commercial vehicle purpose-built for the delivery of goods and services over long ranges. It will combine zero-emissions driving with a range of advanced safety and convenience features more common in consumer electric vehicles.
Powered by the Ultium battery system, the EV600 is targeted to have an estimated range of up to 250 miles on a full charge, with peak charge rate of up to 170 miles of EV range per hour. The vehicle carries more than 600 cubic feet of cargo area and can carry nearly 10,000 pounds.
Standard safety features include front and rear park assist, automatic emergency braking and forward collision alert, and an HD rear vision camera among other features.
BrightDrop solutions are designed to help businesses lower costs, maximize productivity, improve employee safety and freight security, and support overall sustainability efforts.
GM estimates that by 2025, the combined market opportunity for parcel, food delivery and reverse logistics in the U.S. will be over $850 billion. According to the World Economic Forum, demand for urban last-mile delivery, fueled by e-commerce, is expected to grow by 78 percent by 2030, leading to a 36 percent increase in delivery vehicles in the world’s top 100 cities. At the same time, this increase in demand is expected to cause delivery-related carbon emissions to rise by nearly one-third.
The business unit will be helmed by new president and CEO Travis Katz, who most recently served as an entrepreneur-in-residence at venture capital firm Redpoint Ventures.
BrightDrop will initially serve customers in the U.S. and Canada. It will have a customer support team to assist with every aspect of operating and servicing BrightDrop products.
Sensormatic Solutions launched Sensormatic IQ, a new retail platform integrating the full Sensormatic Solutions portfolio, retailer, and third-party data sources, with technology such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), to offer visibility into operations and shopper insights. This combination is designed to drive prescriptive, data-driven outcomes for retailers and create value and growth opportunities as retailers move into the future.
Sensormatic IQ leverages the global reach and scalability of Google Cloud, coupled with smart sensors and advanced analytics, to help retailers power their digital transformation efforts, accelerate integration between new and existing solutions and data sets and enable agile innovation via a secure and managed enterprise-grade platform.
The platform can incorporate insights from edge devices, such as point-of-sale, EAS, RFID, computer vision and more, and is capable of delivering AI predictive and prescriptive models to support operations in retail environments such as apparel, grocery, home improvement and malls.
Sensormatic IQ also debuted VisionWorks, created in partnership with Intel and optimized for retail using Sensormatic Solutions proprietary AI algorithms.
VisionWorks can be deployed in a Sensormatic Smart Hub appliance leveraging existing camera infrastructure. The new offering provides retailers with access to real-time data, prescriptive insights, and reporting in a consolidated dashboard.
The VisionWorks computer vision-based architecture is designed to enable plug and play of use case-specific “Vision Agents” that performs a specific task to solve a real-world retail challenge. Presently available Vision Agents include occupancy, line queue/social distancing, mask detection, audience measurement and traffic.
Vector, a mobile-first workflow automation platform for enterprise shippers, third-party logistics providers, carriers and retailers, has announced enhancements to its catalog of contactless solutions, including mobile document digitization, mobile workflow automation and contactless electronic bill of lading (EBOL).
The company is making the contactless solutions available to all sectors of the supply chain, with the aim to restore industry-wide interoperability and create an open standard for contactless pickup and delivery.
The launch comes as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends thr use of paperless, electronic billing within the supply chain to minimize the number of touch points drivers experience per day.
The contactless eBOL is an end-to-end solution that digitizes paper BOLs and enables contactless pickups and deliveries, thus enhancing visibility and unlocking efficiency gains by removing manual processes associated with paperwork, all while ensuring the resiliency of the supply chain and the safety of supply chain workers.
The document digitization launch is a mobile application that automatically captures, crops and enhances paperwork so the driver doesn’t have to. The auto-assist function ensures drivers of all abilities are uploading perfect digital copies, regardless of lighting, faint print or backdrops.
The driver workflow application minimizes duplicate data entry and audits by pulling information directly from company telematics and transportation management systems, easily running calculations and sending important information directly into pre-existing accounts payable systems.
At NRF 2021, Salesforce launched Loyalty Management, a new product for companies across retail, consumer goods, manufacturing, travel and hospitality, to increase customer trust and engagement. The platform will be generally available in February.
Built on the Salesforce Customer 360 Platform, Loyalty Management helps companies build intelligent loyalty programs for both B2B and B2C customers with a flexible, configurable and quickly deployable solution that fits their specific needs. It helps companies provide more personalized consumer experiences, evolve their loyalty programs to stay current with customer expectations, and help drive business value by creating loyal, lifelong customers.
Loyalty Management is integrated with other Salesforce platforms including Digital 360, Service Cloud and Tableau in an effort to let users leverage the technology across the entire customer journey. Because Loyalty Management is integrated into the Salesforce Customer 360 platform, customers can sign up for loyalty programs through Salesforce Experience Cloud, and businesses can send personalized content and notifications to customers with Salesforce Marketing Cloud and Customer 360 Audiences.
And with Tableau in the mix, retailers can measure program performance, member acquisition and engagement, and partner performance in a dashboard. For example, a retailer can identify when their members aren’t using their points and offer them new incentives to redeem points to reduce the company’s point liability.
Additionally, companies can integrate external systems, like a customer data platform, with APIs and integrate third party solutions from Salesforce AppExchange, such as geolocation-based notifications for when a customer is near a store, to enhance their Loyalty Management program.
These integrations help retailers evolve with industry trends, such as the shift from traditional point-based reward programs to exclusive experiences and products, rather than relying on traditionally fragmented technologies that may prevent them from fostering long-term customer relationships.
Microsoft debuted Microsoft Cloud for Retail at NRF 2021.
The Cloud for Retail, which connect experiences across the end-to-end shopper journey with integrated and intelligent capabilities, bundles together Azure, Microsoft 365, Dynamics 365 and Power Platform, along with various templates and connectors, and Microsoft Advertising, to bring together disparate data sources via a common data model and improve retailers’ core business processes.
Microsoft says that in leveraging the company’s extensive partner ecosystem, the platform can offer users the opportunity to identify, adapt, and serve evolving customer needs for deeper engagement across all channels, empower their employees and create a more resilient, intelligent supply chain.
SAP has launched a Replenishment Planning add-on to its Customer Activity Repository, which collects, cleanses and centralizes customer and transactional data previously spread over separate applications into one single source for analysis.
The new add-on, developed in collaboration with Swiss retailer Coop, uses intelligent replenishment strategies to reduce cost and waste and enhance customer experience. It is an automated solution that reduces the guesswork out of retail replenishment, starting with a focus on fresh products in stores.
“As part of a larger vision to improve business processes and, above all, ensure customer satisfaction, we partnered with SAP for retail replenishment and forecasting,” Coop’s head of IT merchandise management processes, Thomas Vielhauer, said in a statement. “By integrating intelligent technologies into our promotion and replenishment processes, we’re able to stock accurate quantities. That means customers get the products they need and the fresh quality they expect.”
While waste is a continuing problem across retail, Covid-19 introduced new challenges for retailers such as Coop, which saw an abrupt change to planning requirements.
SAP and Coop developed the AI-based SAP Replenishment Planning to provide precise demand prediction and optimal order amounts. Its capabilities, which support replenishment configuration, planning, simulation and alert management, enable retailers to eliminate overstocks and stockouts.
Goods can now be replenished based on the changing demand history of each individual product and store, rather than on a rigid formula. Order amounts are optimized to provide the lowest expected costs under consideration of forecast distribution and product-specific replenishment requirements such as shelf life or shelf capacity.
Sweaty Betty/PTC Retail
Sweaty Betty, a British retailer specializing in women’s activewear, has gone live with product lifecycle management platform PTC FlexPLM. The FlexPLM solution will be used to support Sweaty Betty’s growing e-commerce operations.
Due to significant business growth and the increased demand for athleisure from consumers, Sweaty Betty sought a cloud-based PLM solution in order to provide users across merchandising, design and buying, as well as global suppliers, with access to a “single version of the truth” in relation to product data and key development processes.
“We wanted to put in place a secure online solution that would allow our product teams to standardize business processes and data sharing both internally and externally, and enable them to automate, control and organize all change requests, plans and actual changes to the product in real time,” Jemma Cassidy, chief product officer at Sweaty Betty, said in a statement. “Fundamentally, we needed a solution that would tell us where the product is at each stage of its lifecycle. We required a solution that could inform planning for future seasons, help us track our product during its development lifecycle and improve automation. Reducing duplicate data entry and human error was of high importance.”
ITC Infotech, one of PTC’s services partners, implemented the PLM platform, reducing total cost of ownership and resource impact on the internal IT department.
Alimentation Couche-Tard/McGill University
McGill University and Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc., a Canada-based operator of more than 14,220 convenience stores worldwide, have partnered to launch of a retail innovation lab at the Bensadoun School of Retail Management—a live testing ground for technologies that address the retail sector’s challenges of the future.
“By combining artificial intelligence and retail management, this retail innovation lab at the Bensadoun School of Retail Management will allow our researchers to develop new initiatives and technologies to improve the customer experience for the retail sector with the help of industry partners,” Professor Morty Yalovsky, dean of McGill’s Desautels Faculty of Management, said in a statement.
Inside the lab, a Couche-Tard Connecté section is specially designed with frictionless technologies to allow autonomous and contactless checkout. Using an app, customers can unlock the door to walk into the Connecté section, pick up items and leave. The items selected will be recognized in real time, and payment will be processed automatically in the app.
The aim of the frictionless store is to allow Couche-Tard store team members to spend more time on service, speed up in-store visits and make customers’ lives easier.
The lab is led by two research directors at McGill: professor Maxime Cohen of the Desautels Faculty of Management and professor James Clark of the Faculty of Engineering. Governed by a joint steering committee, preliminary research themes will involve helping customers make healthier, more sustainable choices and finding the right balance between personalization and privacy in the shopping experience.
The parties say that researchers will use “state-of-the-art” artificial intelligence methods, while ensuring stringent data privacy and confidentiality protocols, to improve demand forecasting and customer recommendations. The store will also use virtual reality in some manner to help shoppers find what they’re looking for easier, but the companies didn’t elaborate on the technology used.
Supply chain management
At NRF 2021, Lightspeed, a provider of omnichannel commerce platforms, launched the Lightspeed Supplier Network for North American retailers, a fully integrated stock ordering solution designed to transform supply chain management for SMBs.
The network aims to democratize access to the strategic inventory visibility once reserved predominantly for enterprise retail and e-commerce giants for smaller companies, particularly as the Covid-19 pandemic continues to pressure supply chains.
The Lightspeed Supplier Network will be initially available for retailers in the bike, outdoor sport, jewelry and pet verticals, but the company has plans to expand the network.
The network directly integrates brands with SMBs so that they can access an automatically updating supplier catalog system, as well as order management tools and automated shipment handling directly within Lightspeed’s cloud-based platform.
With the automated manual ordering and consolidated supplier portals, there is more transparency about when a shipment will arrive and what goods will be included, shortening the receiving cycle and getting items into consumers’ hands more quickly.
Additionally, new suppliers and products would be made more discoverable with the introduction of more product details and photos that can be imported into the point of sale with a click of a button.
Combined, these features would enable the SMBs to get closer to adopting a demand-focused inventory model to remain nimble, while providing suppliers access to a ready-to-buy customer base and real-time anonymized sell-through data.
Nacelle, an e-commerce solutions provider that bills itself as a “headless commerce” platform, has raised $18 million in Series A funding. The company, whose solutions are designed to improve mobile and desktop shopping experiences such as page load times and large online traffic spikes, will use the new funding to build and add new functionality to its product and expand its team.
The company expects to triple in size over the next 12 months, with new hires in departments such as software engineering, sales, marketing, product and customer success.
In one customer success story, Nacelle said its enabled DTC fashion brand Something Navy to sell over $1 million worth of clothing within 30 minutes of going live, without a glitch. At launch, Something Navy’s site delivered a 1.4 second load speed and a 34-millisecond page-to-page change load speed, allowing shoppers to move between pages with ease.
The Nacelle platform is geared to deliver headless functionality and performance improvements while working with a brand’s existing e-commerce technology stack, so that retailers ideally wouldn’t have to undergo lengthy and risky data migrations or change systems and processes. The retailer’s e-commerce development teams could then leverage scalable APIs, backend flexibility and frontend components to build a site experience unique to their business needs.
Nacelle’s frontend components leverage a progressive web app (PWA) functionality that loads an entire store at once, when a visitor first arrives. Unlike traditional websites, the PWA-backed website is supposed to have no delay since there is no “back and forth” of data between browser and web server each time a shopper moves to a new page. This creates an app-like experience without requiring the shopper to actually install an app on their phone.
The platform integrates with existing e-commerce platforms such as Shopify Plus and more than 30 e-commerce apps including Klaviyo, Yotpo and Attentive.
The latest funding round was led by investment firm Inovia Capital and included previous investors Index Ventures and Accomplice, with Lerer Hippeau, High Alpha, Silas Capital also participating.
SDI, a company that specializes in apparel sortation and unit handling, consulting, engineering and design, systems and software integration, is integrating its materials handling systems and technologies into pick-and-place robotics solutions from Kindred.
The partnership helps customers meet increasing retail fulfillment demands throughout the entire year, including peak seasons.
SDI’s Distribution Center Management System (DCMS) software application incorporates all parts of distribution center operations for retail, wholesale, fulfillment and e-commerce, and is designed to track the activities performed in a DC or warehouse. It can automate the entire process flow of receiving, managing and shipping goods to customers from the warehouse, but with the integration, it would allow the DC manager to gather more detailed insights performance into the performance of Kindred’s Sort robotics hardware and software solutions provided.
Warehouse associates work collaboratively with Kindred’s Sort robots to sort items into individual customer orders. The robots arrive at the DC ready to operate, with minimal associate training, and are engineered to adapt to each distribution center’s unique requirements. Kindred’s machine learning algorithms also improve robot performance over time for the entire fleet.
The Sort pick-and-place robots use the Core/AutoGrasp artificial intelligence platform, which identifies items to pick, place and sort into complete end-customer orders. Kindred’s Core/AutoGrasp combines AI-powered machine vision, grasping and manipulation algorithms that handle a range of merchandise, including deformable items such as polybagged items.
Kindred Sort robots have picked more than 100 million units in production to date.