Retail is Ground Zero for the Era of Spatial Computing

September 28, 2023

Apple CEO Tim Cook announced back in June 2023 that the third major era of computing is now underway — taking credit for catalyzing each era with an Apple product:

  1. Personal computing — the Macintosh 💻
  2. Mobile computing — the iPhone 📱
  3. Spatial computing — the Vision Pro (emoji TBD)

Tim and his colleagues proceeded to showcase the magic of the spatial computing era — primarily experienced while seated on your couch, with all the photos and video and movies and TV we consume every day made even more immersive and irresistible.

If you witnessed this vision of the near future, you’d be forgiven for dismissing it as a rich person’s toy — at least in this form. And yet the phones in our pockets are already spatial computers, capable of remarkably practical applications transforming how we do business — especially in physical places of commerce.

Retail’s #1 Operational Challenge

High staff turnover, increasing training costs and stockout risks are all constants in today’s retail industry. Retailers primarily think about these in economic terms — but if we look closely, they have a common root: communications challenges.

Every time an associate leaves and a new one is onboarded, store-specific knowledge training must be done. This not only takes time, but is also error-prone; associates, being human, don’t retain this knowledge perfectly, so they often make mistakes. And even stores with retail task management solutions installed can’t always translate app-based guidance into increased associate productivity.

Simply put, Every task has a physical context — a location where it needs to be done.

Products need to be stocked on specific shelves with specific facings, to ensure compliance with planograms and supplier contracts. Keeping your store the picture of success requires that every associate knows what goes where. And repairs, cleanup, and other daily tasks often take longer than they should or result in mistakes due to miscommunication about where and how they need to be performed.

Up to now, knowledge of the correct physical location for a retail task has required substantial associate training and often requires additional handholding while staff come up to speed. Both of these incur significant costs — and even a few additional seconds per task adds up to tens of millions of dollars annually at the scale of modern retail.

Location, Location, Location

Location is everything, in retail as well as real estate. This is where spatial computing introduces unprecedented efficiencies: When the device in your hand knows where it is within the domain of a store, the correct physical context for a task can be communicated precisely. Associate knowledge retention becomes a non-issue, because information is presented at the location where it is actionable — whether this information is restocking guidance, planogram detail, or even a customer in need of assistance.

Every store associate already has a phone in their hand, and an increasing percentage of these devices are spatial computers. High-res cameras, advanced motion sensors, and LiDAR are all becoming commonplace — and this hardware enables AR software built into iOS and Android to track device movements in space with increasing accuracy.

Still Haven’t Found What You’re Looking For?

Ultimately, all the effort retailers invest in operational efficiency doesn’t mean much if shoppers can’t find what they’re looking for. In recent months, I’ve often heard retailers state that 60–80% of their customers come to associates with the question “Where is product X?” — and based on our own experience as shoppers, we can assume that many more leave the store without finding what they’re looking for.

The same spatial computing capabilities can provide shoppers with answers to this and many other questions — helping them locate the current promotions, quickly navigate to what’s on their shopping list, and even discover new products based on their preferences and dietary requirements.

The Right Place at the Right Time

Just as the mobile computing era made everything digital available from anywhere, the spatial computing era will make everything digital with a physical context available in that context. In other words, the content and capabilities we care about will show up at the right place at the right time — in the moment where we can take useful action.

For shoppers, this means the moment when we can add products to our cart — not at some other place or time.

For store associates, this means the moment when we can take care of the task — with all the location-specific guidance necessary to ensure its correct execution.

Convergent: The Spatial Computing Platform for Retail

At Auki Labs, we are investing in the long-term of the spatial computing era — and we’re committed to proving its promise early and often, starting with the retail stores we visit every day.

Our beta program is now open to new applicants — learn more and request a demo here:

— Neil Redding, Head of Product Marketing

About Auki Labs

Auki Labs is at the forefront of spatial computing, pioneering the convergence of the digital and physical to give people and their devices a shared understanding of space for seamless collaboration. 

With a focus on user-centric design and privacy, Auki Labs empowers industries and individuals to embrace the transformative potential of spatial computing, enhancing productivity, engagement, and human connection.

Auki Labs is building the posemesh, a decentralized spatial computing protocol for AR, the metaverse, and smart cities.

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