The Candid Voice in Retail Technology: Objective Insights, Pragmatic Advice

Retail Innovation Born And Bred In Miami

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There’s a lot of buzz around Miami as a new technology hub, and for good reason. New start-ups are popping up regularly, vying for the attention for retail and media alike. Money is pouring into the city, and our mayor, Francis Suarez is having a “moment” for his business-friendly attitude and tech-savvy attitude. Simply put, the city is transforming.

With that as a backdrop, I had the opportunity to be on a teleconferenced judging panel where we listened to pitches by six different local start-ups, two of which are distinctly important to retail. If this is a sampling of what’s to come, I can’t wait to see more.

Overall, while the companies were limited to two-minute pitches, you could really see the promise in some of them. They’re not solutions looking for problems – they’re solutions looking to solve problems in an economical way. At the end of the day, that’s what retailers always look to do – optimize non-selling functions.

The first one of interest to retailers is Deepblocks, which tracks the feasibility of building locations looking at several dimensions: zoning, parcel cost data, construction data, market data, GIS heat maps, market scanning, 3D models and financial returns.  The software will even create custom pdf presentations for you.

There is no doubt that in the age of all-channel selling and delivery, site selection is more important than ever. Software like Deepblocks is a great companion piece to traditional location analytics, which help potential buyers understand traffic flows and patterns, neighborhood demographics and nearby competitors.

The zoning piece is near and dear to me and more important than many people realize. Having spent the past two months explaining to people why using former mall anchor stores as Amazon fulfillment centers is a terrible idea and doomed to fail, I’m glad to see an application specifically designed to identify these kinds of situations. Industrial and commercial zones are very different things, and fulfillment centers are most certainly industrial. Abutting residents can be expected to fight this kind land use, as the sheer volume of trucks and heavy equipment will add stresses and traffic to roads and highways. It’s one thing to bring a truck into a mall. It’s quite another to bring a container-loaded tractor-trailer into a neighborhood.

Retailers can save time, stress and lawsuits by understanding the zoning in their most desired location vs. one nearby without the same issues. And given the escalation of rents, ROI is an even more important metric than ever.

The other fascinating start-up was Kiwibot.  Kiwibots are little autonomous delivery vehicles. They navigate sidewalks to bring small parcels and food deliveries to your home or business.

Devised in Colombia and currently deployed in Miami, Los Angeles, San Jose, Detroit, Pittsburgh, New Mexico, and Washington, they are gaining popularity on college campuses and other short-distance hauls.

Prior generations of Kiwiwbots seem to require some level of human navigation from a distance, but the latest generation, version 4, has a better sense of traffic, bumps in the road, and cliff sensors.

They’re really cute, and of course, my biggest concern is their survival on the mean streets of Miami.  Vandalism is not an unlikely scenario. Still, they are less likely to suffer this fate on college campuses and can deliver items smoothly and easily. That appears to be where they are getting their start.

In an attempt to head off on-campus vandalism, the company is “dressing up” the robots on their own and gamifying the experience.  As the corporate website explains:

There will be four costume robots (sportsman, nerd, cheerleader, and mascot) running around the campus. If one of our costume robots delivers your order, you’ll receive a surprise!

I suppose they could end up festooned with sorority and fraternity banners, but the on-board cameras may well deter those activities, or the company may decide to embrace the concept.

Autonomous vehicles matter. Carriers claim that a shortage of truckers is a primary reason our supply chain is breaking. More than one company is experimenting with autonomous vehicles.

Fedex has announced it will be rolling out (no pun intended) self-driving trucks for the route between Houston and Dallas. This makes me a bit nervous, especially if they try these out in Miami. Driving here is frightening enough.

Also, everyone talks about drones. That would make me nervous as a drone operator. They seem to make for great target practice units to me. I know it’s illegal, but the temptation would be great. But little robots driving around on campus seem like an economical and practical use of the technologies. They also seem like they might survive!

Stay tuned. We see more start-ups coming every day, along with established firms. I’ll be reporting on what I see.