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'Smart stores' boast robots, interactive shelving

Associated Press

LAS VEGAS -- Tomorrow's retail stores want to take a page from their online rivals by embracing advanced technology -- everything from helpful robots to interactive mirrors to shelves embedded with sensors.

Amazon's new experimental grocery store in Seattle, opening in early 2017, will let shoppers buy goods without needing to stop at a checkout line. Sensors track items as shoppers put them into baskets or return them to the shelf. The shopper's Amazon account gets automatically charged.

Kroger, Neiman Marcus and Lowe's are among the companies already experimenting with futuristic retail stores. Here are four technologies coming to a store near you.

â ¢ Smart shelves: Web retailers have plenty of data on their customers. Some of these online technologies can even track shoppers from site to site to lure them back with what's known as retargeting ads -- promos targeted to what that shopper has looked at before, but didn't actually buy. Smart shelves with sensors promise the same kind of in-depth consumer behavior analytics at retail stores.

â ¢ Robots: Lowe's is testing robots in one of its San Jose, California, stores and plans to roll them out to 10 more stores this year. Besides scanning shelves for inventory, the robots can guide customers to specific products in both English and Spanish.

â ¢ Interactive mirrors: High-end clothing stores are testing interactive mirrors in dressing areas. Neiman Marcus has installed these outside fitting rooms at 20 stores to offer shoppers a 360-degree view of an outfit. Shoppers can make side-by-side comparisons without having to try them all on. They can also share video with friends for feedback.

â ¢ Virtual and augmented reality: With such technologies, shoppers wear a headset to picture how something might look in 3-D, in some cases overlaid on top of their real kitchen or living room. Home Depot's augmented reality app lets customers upload a picture of the room on their phone and thumb through thousands of paint and stain colors until they arrive at one that's right.

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