Tech that could save brick-and-mortar retail

- Imagine if a shopping cart that knows what items you put in it and tallies your bill as you shop. It could be coming to a store near you sooner than you think.

"The user interface for brick-and-mortar retail has been the same for a long, long time," Focal Systems CEO Francois Chaubard said. "And now we have technology to dramatically improve it."

Focal Systems makes the smart shopping cart technology. Chaubard said the goal is to streamline the checkout experience.

"No one likes waiting in a queue," he said. "The average time waiting in a queue is about eight minutes."

The smart shopping carts allow customers to skip the checkout line.

That technology was on display at the Innovation Lab at the annual National Retail Federation at the Javits Center. The goal of the lab is to breathe life into an industry that has seen more and more brick-and-mortar stores close and needs to keep up with changing consumer behaviors.

"We are seeing everything from VR on your phone to robots in the warehouse impacting how people shop and when they get their stuff," said Katherine Cullen, NRF's director of retail and consumer insights.

Some other innovations on display included Splyce, which its CEO described as the "Shazam of things."

"You can take a picture of anything, find it and buy it," Ted Mann said.

The technology, already embedded in dozens of retailers' apps, can find the same or similar style of clothing, or even, say, a specific shade of lipstick through a photo. It then facilitates a seamless purchase with a few clicks on a smartphone.

Another app-based technology, Revieve, brings the experience of shopping for beauty products right into the palm of the customer's hand by analyzing skin type based on a selfie and short questionnaire.

"[It] basically provides an in-store beauty consult to the online world, so basically taking a selfie, analyzing your skin and making product recommendations," Revieve's Miikaa Makio said.

Also on the retail horizon are more interactive in-store tablets, virtual reality, and augmented reality.

Chaubard, of the Focal Systems smart shopping cart, said all of this is the future of the industry.

"I don't believe this future where brick-and-mortar retail is dead," he said. "I believe in future when brick and mortar has a facelift and much better shopping experience."

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