Updated Jan 26, 2022 - Economy

The future of retail: more self-service

A tag attached to a shirt for self-checkout purposes in a retail store.

Zliide makes a tag that attaches to clothing for self-checkout in retail stores. Photo: Jennifer A. Kingson/Axios.

Self-checkout, self-service, autonomous stores, DIY: The retail world is prepping for a future with fewer human workers and more technology involved in selling us stuff.

Why it matters: While 72% of retail sales are still expected to take place in brick-and-mortar stores in 2024, merchants are busy installing interactive signage, smart price tags, and remote checkout systems that point to a very different customer experience.

  • Trends like "buy online, pick up in store" (BOPIS) and "buy online, return in store" (BORIS) are being joined by ROPIS (reserve online, pick up in store).
  • Cashier-less checkout is going mainstream — both because stores like Amazon Go have the technology to do it and because finding workers is so difficult.

How it works: Companies like Zliide are coming up with tech that keeps people coming to stores, but lets them buy stuff without taking it to a register.

  • Zliide's digital fob (above) attaches to a garment on a rack in a store, where you can try the item on.
  • Through Zliide's app, you can see the price, videos and product information.
  • You can check out on the spot through Apple Pay — no salesperson needed — and get a digital receipt. The Zliide fob unlocks, and you drop it in a nearby box.
  • If you decide against buying the shirt but change your mind later, Zliide will help you buy it online and have it delivered.

Driving the news: Judging from a stroll through the National Retail Federation's big annual trade show in New York City last week, the role of salespeople in retail stores will evolve and wane — possibly to the frustration of shoppers, who may want more in-person help.

  • As smart tags on merchandise make cashiers obsolete, retailers will be tempted to staff stores more thinly.
  • QR codes on in-store signage will direct people to promotions and other information that'll also help them shop without assistance.
  • On the plus side, people who find sales staff intrusive or bothersome will be able to dodge them.

What they're saying: "If you want to go keep your Airpods in, you can go check out and leave without interacting with a human," says Nikolai Brix Lindholm, CTO and co-founder of Zliide.

  • "With people who want to get serviced, employees have more time to do that because they don't have to stand behind the till — so they can actually go out on the floor and give service to the people who want it."

Zliide's system is now being used in Denmark by H&M Group's Weekday stores. "What we can actually learn now is who is coming into the store, what are they interacting with, what is the age split, what is the gender split of the store," Lindholm tells Axios.

  • "We really try to utilize it in terms of getting people to buy more."

What's next: A big buzzphrase at the retail conference was "social commerce," or letting people buy clothing, home furnishings and other products through Instagram, Facebook, TikTok or Pinterest.

  • "It's word-of-mouth on steroids," said Sandie Hawkins, TikTok’s GM of North America Solutions, per an Accenture report.
  • By one estimate, the global market for social commerce is expected to grow to $604.5 billion by 2027.
Go deeper