Smartphones, tablets, artificial intelligence: technology is in everything we do. But what if that’s the problem? These days, you walk into a lunchroom and everyone is sat on their phone. You step onto a tube and most of the people around you are either scrolling through their phone or have their headphones in (yes, there is now Wifi on the London Underground). Even when you go to the pub with your mates, your mobile device is your right-hand man… quite literally. 

Don’t get me wrong, mobiles and tablets are great for exclusive phone communication. From sending instant messages, checking social media, to replying to emails when out of office. But what about physical communication? When we’re scrolling and tapping away, we are absorbed by our devices, making it much more difficult to involve ourselves in the events and conversations happening around us. It’s not just communication it’s affecting. It’s how we shop, how we work and how we live. The supply chain is just as tied up in virtual cables. Has our technology frenzy gone too far? Are we relying on technology to attract customers? Have we crossed the line between helpful and just plain unsociable? 

The latest technology trends in the supply chain are changing how the retail industry connects with its customers. Warehouses are incorporating robots and AI technology into manual labour, but latest innovations have set the bar even higher…

As explored in the previous FORWARDER Tech article, China’s Hema restaurant operates with QR code-scanning. As a result, communication between customers and employees is very little, if not zero. From the moment customers walk into the restaurant: scan a smartphone, to tell them where they are sat. Once sat down, the customer uses the online menu on their mobile to browse and select which cuisine to order. Chefs (who are located in the kitchen above the restaurant) will prepare and cook the dishes, before putting them on a robot to deliver to the customer’s table. Sounds crazy, right? This restaurant in fact proves to be very popular in China, especially to those who are dining alone. Whilst I struggle to get on board with this, clearly it’s seen a positive response from its customers. However, taking away the hospitality element of a meal could leave some people wondering whether this could encourage mobile phones at the table, resulting in unsociable behaviour. 

Another example of a technology orientated and reliant retailer is 7Fresh, a fresh food store also located in China. 7Fresh is scheduled to open around 1,000 stores, and uses its “big data analytics” to compete with the products the customer is searching to buy. 7Fresh stores plan to introduce smart shopping carts, which will follow the customer through the store, allowing to shop hands-free. In addition, the mobile app and payment procedure will recognise items in the basket, meaning that there will be no need to scan individual items. Can you imagine walking around a supermarket with a trolley following behind? Hmm…

Whilst technology is incredibly helpful for the supply chain, I’m worried it’s smothering every experience we have. Retail is taking technology by its horns in order to please its customers, but it could be blurring the lines between helping and hindering user experiences. What’s your take on it? Let us know!

Rachel Jefferies, Editor, FORWARDER magazine