Ambient commerce, also referred to as checkout-free retail, allows customers to walk straight out of stores with the items they want. A range of artificial intelligence (AI) technologies tracks their movements and automatically charges their accounts without the need for queues or cash registers. As retailers attempt to attract customers back into brick-and-mortar stores following the easing of lockdown measures, they are becoming more creative. In the UK, Amazon, Tesco and Aldi are shaping the future of grocery shopping by adopting this method of shopping in some of their branches.

Retailers have been struggling to increase footfall to pre-Covid levels

The pandemic accelerated retail’s shift to e-commerce. However, following the easing of lockdown measures, retailers are now attempting to entice customers back into brick-and-mortar stores. Despite the end of lockdown in the UK, footfall to brick-and-mortar stores has remained low. Ministers have warned that footfall in the UK’s brick-and-mortar stores may never return to pre-pandemic levels. This is likely because customers appreciate the convenience of e-commerce and are apprehensive about returning to stores and potentially contracting Covid-19. As a result, retailers must do more to draw customers back into brick-and-mortar stores.

Ambient commerce may be the Covid-friendly way to shop

Ambient commerce offers consumers the promise of a new way to shop. It combines the physical space associated with traditional retail with cutting-edge technology. It gives typical shopping experiences a digital twist, which customers are likely to appreciate following prolonged exposure to e-commerce during the pandemic. Retailers that have adopted this in the UK include Amazon and Tesco. Retailer Aldi is also currently trialling the ambient commerce concept in South London.

Globally, Trigo was one of the first companies outside of Amazon to start building ambient commerce systems. The company partnered with German supermarket chain REWE while also working with Tesco and Israeli supermarket chain Shufersal. Trigo’s CEO and founder Michael Gabay predicts ambient commerce stores will be in any major city around the world in 2022. Similarly, AiFi, an ambient commerce start-up, has announced deals with European retailers Wundermaart and Zabka. While AiFi’s CEO predicts the tech is likely to blow up within the next decade, rather than within the year as Trigo claims, what is certain is that a growing number of retailers are adopting frictionless tech.

Both customer convenience and safety have become priorities following the pandemic, and ambient commerce will shift the way brick-and-mortar retailers operate. Ambient commerce is a way to shop in-store with minimal human interaction. It may be the future of retail as new Covid-19 strains continually pose a challenge to health and safety. A Bloomberg survey revealed that 87% of shoppers preferred to shop with touchless or robust self-checkout options in-store during the pandemic. The concept is also likely to appeal to younger consumers.