The Sunday Times says

The future of retail is here, and now

The future of shopping may not be a binary battle between online sites and bricks-and-mortar shops, but an amalgam of the two. Singaporeans have a glimpse of this new option with Thursday's opening of Habitat by Honestbee, a 60,000 sq ft retail space which stocks 20,000 products. There are no cashiers. Shoppers gain entry and pay with their smartphone app; groceries are packed by robots. Other major retailers, such as FairPrice, have also pushed ahead with new e-commerce concepts too, to meet changing lifestyles.

The biggest online retailer of them all, amazon.com, opened its checkout-free grocery store in Seattle in January. Customers shop, walk out with food and groceries, and get charged for items via their smartphone app. The melding of technology and the real world has dual benefits. For businesses, it is a way to reduce manpower costs, especially when it may be difficult to find service staff. Data can provide a clear picture of customer preferences, and help with targeted marketing, in developing more personalised services, and in improving the customer shopping experience. Technology transforms what was once just a trip to a store into an experience. For consumers, being able to see and touch what they buy is a plus, especially when shopping for fresh produce. Cashless payment options, having your shopping packed by robots and delivered home - perhaps by drones in future - are high-tech conveniences that streamline, and speed up, the shopping experience. The Government has been encouraging businesses to look for smarter options, and there is an increasing move towards becoming a more cashless society. Going forward, Singaporeans may find their shopping experiences mediated by apps and bots. Given the realities of society today - from managing cost to improving convenience - the growing reliance on technology and automation is inevitable.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 21, 2018, with the headline 'The future of retail is here, and now'. Print Edition | Subscribe