Retail Technology: 5 Trends That Are Changing Retail As We Know It

Published on Jan. 05, 2021

To say that technology is changing retail would be an understatement. Technology is not just changing retail: It has completely revolutionized the way we shop and it has forced the industry to re-think their business model. This evolution process is never-ending, now, more than ever. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought many challenges for retailers, and technology is key to overcoming them. 

In this article, we have selected a series of technology trends that are reshaping retail. In order to analyze these trends, we have interviewed some of the brightest startups out there. 

An Introduction To Retail Technology

“Increasing convenience, saving time and creating quality experiences have become the pillars of successful innovation,” said Tanya Ma, Ventures Associate at Plug and Play Brand & Retail. “These were the foundations on which some of the most successful technology startups in the world were built upon.”

“These days, startups are challenged to find more ways to achieve these three pillars and with the advancement of technology, we’re seeing startups push the limits of what a customer experience can become. Shopping in-store can now be faster and more convenient through frictionless checkout experiences and automated stores, items can be delivered faster and cheaper through micro-fulfillment centers and the quality of customer experiences can be improved through robotics and immersive experiences. We expect the future store to be a connected hybrid of physical and digital experiences where the customer can get exactly what they want, where they want and when they want. These are just a few of the endless possibilities of what the future store could look like and we’re excited for what’s to come.”

Frictionless Checkout


What’s frictionless checkout? It’s a shopping experience where friction is reduced to a minimum. Transactions need to be easy and they need to be fast. This is, of course, easier said than done. 

Frictionless checkout looks simple, but it’s actually exceptionally complicated. Both online stores and brick and mortar stores need to re-think their processes and move into a range of new technologies to ensure a secure and quick checkout. 

AiFi is an AI technology company that automates stores for retailers and brands of all sizes. They recently launched OASIS, a patented system to build and operate automated stores.  It includes a whole suite of APIs that can be easily integrated into a retailer’s front end, back end, and POS systems.

In order to talk about frictionless checkout retail technology, we have talked with Steve Gu, CEO and Co-founder of AiFi.

How does frictionless checkout help retailers?

“Frictionless checkout provides shoppers with more convenience. The experience itself is straightforward and time-saving.” 

Check out this video for an example of a frictionless checkout in Schiphol Airport:

An example of frictionless checkout

“Frictionless checkout enables retailers to extend operating hours, optimize the store operations, and deploy stores closer to shoppers, whenever and wherever they need.” 

With COVID-19 looming large, providing a safe shopping environment is a top priority right now. Contagion fear leads to more touchless, contactless ways of shopping, and taking the checkout process out of the shopping experience so stores can better protect both shoppers and store staff.”

Immersive Experiences


In-store experiences are changing retail, transforming the act of shopping into a lot more than a simple transaction. In order to talk about this trend, and the role that technology plays in it, we have talked with Eric Navarrette, Co-founder and Chief Marketing Officer of ARwall

ARwall is an AR/XR technology company creating solutions for film, TV, experientials, and retail. They created ARFX, a digital background solution that combines virtual production methods with real-time engines and interactivity. They also developed a consumer-facing platform called ARwall Interactive, which allows guests to engage in larger than life XR experiences without needing a headset, goggles, controls, or touchscreens (so it’s perfect for a post-COVID-19 world).

How do immersive experiences help retailers?

“We’ve heard from brands that convincing a guest to stay in a retail location just a couple minutes longer than they planned on, leads to a dramatic increase in conversion. When you give guests a fun, immersive experience that they can share—and more importantly, that they can’t get at home or on their phones—it leads to positive associations with the brand, as well as more money spent.”

“Our technology is providing fun experiences with zero-contact with strangers and no items to handle. I believe that in-store immersive experiences will bolster consumer confidence as people venture back into public spaces.”

Food Robotics


Robotics is also one of the technologies that are reshaping retail. Big retailers, such as Walmart, are already using robots and, according to ABI Research, more than 150,000 mobile robots will be deployed in brick and mortar retail stores by 2025. And don’t think we just mean warehouses: Take a look at the robotic shopping carts that you can find at the Chinese supermarket 7Fresh).

Blendid is a good example of robotics technology applied to retail. Food robotics, in this case. They offer contactless, autonomous food robotics kiosks that use advanced technology to prepare and serve healthy, delicious smoothies. These smoothies are customized and made-to-order based on an individual’s preferences. Their kiosks are currently available in several Northern California locations and will soon be available all across the US.

In order to know more about the way this technology is expediting retail, we have interviewed Vipin Jain, Blendid’s CEO and Co-Founder.

How does robotics help retailers?

According to Jain, food operators are facing three major challenges: 

  • Consumer trust and safety: “The pandemic has exposed the vulnerability that exists in our foodservice environment, making it difficult to provide uninterrupted essential services. Winning consumer trust requires a contactless experience,” said Jain.
  • Consistency of experience: “The constant need to evolve to keep up with consumer trends and employee churn, make it difficult to maintain quality and consistency of foodservice experience.”
  • Low margins: “There’s consumer demand for higher quality food, as well as an increasing cost of labor and regulations. The inability to raise prices enough to recoup puts tremendous pressure on operating margins and cash on cash return.”

“Robotics and AI can help alleviate all three challenges by providing a contactless and safe experience, while lowering operating costs and improving margins.”

Micro Fulfillment


“Micro-fulfillment refers to the concept of placing small-scale, automated warehouse facilities in accessible urban or suburban locations that are close to the end-consumer,” told us Anne Marie Stephen, USA Sales Director at Fabric

Before we go deeper into this topic, we’ll introduce Fabric. This U.S.-Israeli startup designs, builds and operates small-scale, micro-fulfillment solutions based on robotic technology. Their modular platform can be installed in the back of existing stores enabling retailers to provide curbside pickup orders in minutes and home delivery in as little as an hour. And that’s not it: E-commerce brands that have no physical stores use local Fabric micro-fulfillment centers to provide same-day delivery services. 

How does micro fulfillment help retailers? 

“When a customer places an online order, their items are automatically picked, packed and available for pick up within minutes, or they can have them delivered in as little as one hour.”

“Technology is integral to every aspect of an automated micro-fulfillment. Most shoppers only see the browser or mobile software they use to order products. But those easy-to-use online stores rely on dozens of backend systems to manage receiving, put-away, sorting, picking, packing, and shipping.”

In-store Tech


The amount of different technologies that can be used in retail stores is outstanding. They range from something as simple as QR codes to Amazon Go’s automated checkout. 

In order to know more about this retail technology trend, we have interviewed Art Stavenka, Co-Founder of HYPERVSN. This British startup develops innovative products such as 3D holographic display systems for retail and entertainment markets. They offer two main products: ‘Solo’, a single device producing a hologram of up to 75cm, and a ‘Wall’, multiple Solo devices placed together to create a large hologram. Take a look at this video to find out more.

How does this in-store tech help retailers?

“Attention has always been a crucial ingredient for marketers in both advertising and communication,” said Stavenka. “Traditional visual advertising and digital signage are becoming less relevant and less impactful: a human eye is too used to regular flat 2D images. The average person is exposed to 5,000 adverts a day, so for brands and businesses, it is more challenging to cut through the information clutter and encourage customers to enter the store.”

This is where HYPERVSN’s holographic 3D display systems come into the stage. “The latest independent case studies with several Fortune 100 brands demonstrated that HYPERVSN allows for c.40% longer viewing and engagement time compared to conventional 2D ads and c.60% longer - compared to printed ones.”

At Plug and Play’s Retail accelerator we match large corporations with top-tier startups that are changing the world as we know it. Join our platform today.