Market Spotlight—Retail: Wearables Have a Place on the Store Floor

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Starting from a base of $249 million in 2015, market research firm Tractica earlier this year predicted that the global speech and voice biometrics markets will generate $5.1 billion in sales by 2024. The strongest use cases are likely to be

consumer-facing: mobile device authentication and control of wearable devices. On the enterprise side, the growth markets are expected to include call centers, government, retail, and healthcare.

In retail, the biggest uses of speech technologies are in the call center, with everything from interactive voice response systems to more advanced voice biometrics and call recording technologies taking center stage.

Retailers for years have also relied on voice-based systems in their warehouses, from companies such as Voxware and Vocollect, to help with order picking and fulfillment. These technologies have largely been housed on mobile computers that are accessed through wearable headsets. Like warehouses, large store environments that are also very task-oriented could benefit from these same systems for a range of activities, from receiving inbound deliveries to replenishing shelves.

In fact, a growing number of retailers are now equipping their store employees with voice-enabled wearable technologies to help them better serve customers.

“Wearables provide employees with hands-free access to information, such as assigned tasks and completed activities, so that they can be more efficient and planning can be optimized,” analysts at Deloitte Digital wrote in a recent report. “Wearables can also provide easy access to interactive step-by step instructions for task completion and connectivity with remote team members and help desks for support.”

By deploying wearables in the retail environment, companies can simplify the way employees communicate with one another, with store management, with back-office systems, and with customers.

One retailer that has already invested in the technology is Cabela’s, a retailer of outdoor gear. The company in January rolled out voice-controlled wearable devices from Theatro for employees across its retail locations. The Theatro system responds to voice commands.

With Theatro, Cabela’s found a suite of voice-based apps that enable employees to interact with back-office systems to request and receive location and inventory information. Employees can simply read off product names and numbers and the system responds by letting them know how many of the items are on hand. The system allows retailers to guide employee activities during the day, tracking worker movements and delivering voice messages when needed.

Employees can also use the system to communicate with one another. When a user wants to speak to a fellow employee, she simply states a name and is transferred directly to him. Employees working directly with customers can push a special button on the device that will place virtually all calls into quiet mode.

“The solution allows our management team to be connected to our outfitters in a more meaningful and actionable way. This helps us fine-tune our operational processes and maximize labor savings,” said Michael Copland, executive vice president and chief operations officer at Cabela’s, in a statement.

“We strongly believe that store employees should be heads-up and hands-free when engaging with customers,” said Chris Todd, CEO of Theatro, in a statement. “Better enabling those employees in the store can be a huge differentiator for retailers as they look to meet the needs of the mobile-enabled customer of the future.”

So far, 16 of the nation’s 100 largest retailers, including not only Cabela’s but also the Container Store and personal shopping clothing service Trunk Club, are using the system. 

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