Merry Xmas everyone! Today’s [retail bytes] teaches us that doing it yourself (or letting a bot do it) is often the way to go…

What Amazon can do… the Japanese can do better: Only a few days after Amazon launched its self-scan-and-checkout Amazon Go, Panasonic trumped it with a trial store in Osaka. Not only does the store have shopping baskets that can scan the product for you, but also the bottom of the basket comes off at the (obviously self) checkout, and your groceries gracefully drop into an automated bagging and packing bot area. The lesson is: don’t try to out-bot the Japanese in robotics. Bezos, eat your heart out.

Whose round is it? 24% of us hate queueing at the bar waiting to be served. 20% would actually leave the pub if the queue is too long. To solve the waiting time problem, Barclays has sponsored a contactless beer pump. Contactless payments in the UK are 112% up on the year so swipe-and-pay has clearly got traction. Simply wave your contactless cards by the screen on top of the beer pump, and voilà, the smart pump kicks in to pour your beer all by itself. Getting a round may be tricky though, requiring multiple card swipes. Beer experts say that pouring a pint is an act of graceful and nuanced art, which no automation can possibly comprehend. The jury is still out on Barclays’s idea, but since it does cut queues at the bar, our money is on the days of the bartender being numbered. Coffee and baristas next?

Do it your (s)elf: The Mall of America is looking to cut down on the time that customers spend looking for products at their giant shopping centres. The average duration of a shopping mall trip is over three hours, most of it spent on searching for the right store, then the right product and finally the right size. This is not efficient and ELF is here to help. ELF is Mall of America’s automated – but very warm and lovely – personal AI concierge, who will cut down on your search time, advise and then point you toward the right place for your needs, thus saving your precious time. Personal shoppers at no extra cost are great news. Sainsbury’s has even picked up on the theme and introduced ELF checkouts in their London stores. Nice one.

Fashion AI-styleIt’s not just Amazon and Japan-based Panasonic who are battling it out in the field of retail bots. Zalando, the European online fashion retail giant from Berlin, is attempting to automate stylists and fashion advisors. The company is investing in fashion bots powered by AI to deliver recommendations on new trends and looks, driven by knowledge extracted from the semantic analysis of text from bloggers and ‘influencers’. But will Zalando’s equivalent of Alexa tell you if your bum looks big in it?

Baby self check-out: Let’s face it, all of the above automation is badly needed, as millennial consumers are not really shopping types: for them, experience is everything. A study shows that retail is not even part of the top six apps that millennials use on a regular basis. To counter the trend, libraries and even nurseries are offering ‘shopping survival’ skills starting with self-checkout training while borrowing books. As the Jesuits said, get them young and you can keep them for life.

We’re wishing a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all The Retail Practice fans, suppliers, clients and collaborators. You have all been wonderful and many thanks for your tips, feedback and photos of your best retail tech. We simply could not live without them so keep them coming!

May The Force Be With You in 2017!