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There are, undoubtedly, disruptive changes afoot to the role of city centres. The pandemic has kept employees away from offices, customers away from shops, and diners away from tables. This speeded up some predictions and created a new perspective on the city of the future.

Our towns and cities will adapt to the changing behaviours and lifestyles, becoming more responsive to the needs of their localities and greener places to live and work in. Work from anywhere policies become not only a solution for the COVID times. It will stick with us longer. Not all companies will decide to go for it but chances are big enough to invest in self-service. A fundamental to the city centre of the future will be convenience. Retailers and brands will use the latest technologies to make urban centres faster and more flexible.

We have seen that coming. We saw these new technologies being tested and implemented, slowly but effectively. Robotic click and collect systems are one such technology that became so strong during the pandemic, and it’s one that will help our cities adapt for the future so that they can meet the new challenges.

From omni-channel to omni-fulfilment

Retail will be fuelled by robotics.

At i.f, we’re strong advocates for customer experience management that gives physical stores a point of difference, which cannot be delivered by any other channel yet. At the same time, retail has to be as streamlined and convenient as possible, surprising customers and giving fulfilling their needs and wants quickly.

For most retailers, it is robotic click and collects systems that will make retail more convenient. Huge retailers like French supermarket Carrefour began their adventure with a robotic C&C system that enables customers to pick up their online orders without needing to interact with human staff.

The benefits of this type of system to both customers and retailers are manifold. It’s quick, easy and convenient for customers, to use. And as Carrefour’s PR decision says the launch of the C&C system was so successful that it quickly hit the maximum of 200 collections in one day.

It takes about €20 to deliver typical order of €80 to customers’ homes, click and collect system promises retailers a substantially higher margin on their eCommerce businesses. And no interaction with people is a handy solution during the pandemic situation. And by cutting out the number of home deliveries, retailers reduce emissions and parcels require less outer-cardboard. This combined effect can help retailers to reduce logistics costs, meet their carbon goals and have a marketing asset in hand.

I need to mention parcel lockers built by InPost across Poland and the UK. Retail Robotics has adventurous plans to expand its own click and collect system. And as a user of this solution I must admit it is quick, convenient and promising for the future. InPost constantly improves the system, which for me was very intuitive from day one.

A fairly advanced retailer in the UK Marks & Spencer, have been catching up with their own contact-less drive-through offerings whereby customers scan a code from their car and their orders are brought out by a member of staff and placed in their boot. The convenience and customer’s interest of them means they will stay.

The acceleration of eCommerce during the pandemic has also compounded the need for retailers to rethink the role of their stores. In countries such as the US and France, major big-box retailers including Walmart and Target have been adapting a number of their locations so that their primary role is that of the fulfilment centre. It looks like this: local online orders are picked by staff and are then either delivered to the customer or the customer come to pick them up.

Implementing the style and speed at once

There’s a ’15-minute city’ concept which ambition is that every resident should have access to pretty much everything they need to go about their lives, including stores, restaurants, green spaces, and office buildings, within a 15-minute walk or bike ride of their home.

The idea is to focus on eliminating road transport to the minimum. By offering services closer to home, neighbourhoods can become pedestrianised, focusing on foot and bicycle traffic without damaging the environment. Every neighbourhood will have its own centre, full of services including retail that is far more locally relevant to the needs of the community.

Additionally, all those solutions implement great design. As an example, I will point InPost C&C systems which in collaboration with artists make the lockers pretty. I believe that soon there will be lockers that completely match the environment. Maybe that will use solar power and greenery to do so? Possibilities are endless.

Promising city of the future

Amazon is rolling out its Dash Smart Shelf, a system that seamlessly reorders household items when it detects them running low.

Candy offers an all-in-one washing machine subscription that does the same thing for detergent.

Alibaba’s logistics arm Cainiao, have been experimenting with lockers that can automatically change size and temperature according to the contents of the package.

PickupHero, promises to streamline the process of picking up parcels from local convenience stores though small-format robotic click and collect units that fit into 90% of local stores.

In a residential building in Santa Ana, California, working in a similar way to Amazon Go, the tiny convenience store is completely unmanned and residents just need to scan their phones when they enter and again to pay when they walk out.

TULU uses the same tactic to offer a rental platform in consumers’ own buildings. Residents can browse a range of household items and appliances and rent them for up to three days.

We all thought we would be waiting a little longer for this kind of solution to develop. But the changes raised during the pandemic proved us wrong. To prepare for that future, retailers need to be thinking now about how they can leverage these technologies to deliver exceptional value to their customers.

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    Patrycja Franczak

    Author Patrycja Franczak

    She runs company where she cooperates with many fashion companies helping them to strategically define, move toward and manage the future amid the challenges of uncertainty and change - to improve business performance and manage change.

    More posts by Patrycja Franczak

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