- Retailers are turning to AI-powered tech like autonomous checkout to navigate the labor shortage.
- Others are using apps that help with hiring, tracking inventory, and more efficient organization.
- Companies like Grabango, Shopic, and Homebase are helping the retail industry stay afloat.
- See more stories on Insider's business page.
Like its restaurant industry peers, retailers have had to lean significantly on emerging tech in order to stay afloat during the pandemic.
After navigating temporarily shuttered stores and unprecedented unemployment rates, many companies are now facing a global labor shortage leaving them short-staffed as local economies reopen.
Around 649,000 retail workers put in their notice in April alone. That's the largest monthly number since the Labor Department began tracking such data, according to the Washington Post.
Now, in an effort to keep up with demand for everything from groceries to office wear, retailers are turning to the fast-growing retail technology sector, which has raised more than $3.2 billion since 2017, according to Crunchbase.
"We have two things going on: Number one is the shortage of labor in the economy right now, but also the desire for companies not to see their labor costs spiral out of control," food retail analyst and R5 Capital CEO Scott Mushkin told Insider.
With fewer retail workers available, retailers are increasingly experimenting with automation tools specializing in areas like artificial intelligence-powered smart checkout systems and integrated mobile point-of-sale programs.
We took a look at ten retail tech companies that could help retail companies navigate the labor crisis. The estimated total funding for each startup is based on reports from PitchBook.
Total funding:$13.97 million
What it does: Caper creates intelligent shopping carts that detect items and adds them to a digital tab, using computer vision-enabled cameras and sensors that track weight. Users can skip the register by paying directly on a screen affixed to the cart.
Why it's on the list: As frictionless shopping became increasingly enticing during the pandemic, Caper identified new opportunities for growth. It recently teamed with Kroger to develop a "KroGo" smart cart, which was piloted in Ohio earlier this year. The company also offers a Caper Counter, which operates similarly to the cart and is designed for smaller format stores and cafe settings, bringing its use case to a wider range of businesses.
According to Mushkin, companies like Caper offer more immediate solutions for retailers in a labor rut, without needing to retrofit entire fleets and integrating camera vision technology which can be arduous and costly.
"A smart cart is getting you more labor savings and it's more realistic to deploy more broadly," he told Insider. "It saves you some labor, it doesn't cost you an arm and a leg."
Total funding: $236.24 million
What it does: Standard is an AI-powered autonomous checkout startup that allows consumers to grab and go without needing to stop by a register. Payments are calculated through video and processed digitally after the shopper leaves a store, skipping the use of turnstiles, gates, and shelf sensors.
Why it's on the list: The fast-growing company hit coveted unicorn status earlier this year as demand for self-checkout technology skyrockets. Standard announced a $150 million Series C round of funding in February, which will be used to expand its technology to 50,000 retail stores in the next five years while competing with the likes of Amazon to bring autonomous checkout to the masses.
Jordan Fisher, co-founder and CEO of Standard, said in a statement he believes "this new category will be bigger than mobile or the Internet" and called it "the most disruptive thing to happen to retail in decades."
"Retailers find themselves in the midst of a perfect storm, as they struggle for razor-thin margins, battle the likes of Amazon and Walmart, and are beaten down by COVID-19," Fisher said in a press statement in February.
Total funding: $187 million
What it does: Trigo is a Tel Aviv-based company that specializes in autonomous checkout with a focus on retrofitting the technology into existing grocery chains.
Why it's on the list: Trigo aims to "enable brick-and-mortar grocery retailers to integrate the efficiencies and insights of digital commerce into the physical world," according to its website. In an effort to expand its reach, the company announced a partnership with Google Cloud last month.
Trigo has seen significant growth in 2020, including a major partnership with the UK-based grocery store chain, Tesco. In 2021 it has continued to expand across Europe and recently began working with German grocer, Rewe.
According to research conducted with data analytics firm Kantar, Trigo anticipates there are 500,000 global convenience and grocery stores that can be retrofitted with its automated technology, pointing to a vast business opportunity.
Total funding: $73.1 million
What it does: Grabango is an automated self-checkout company and top competitor of Standard and Trigo.
Why it's on the list: Grabango currently has its eye on the captive audience of US-based convenience and grocery stores ripe for its technology.
The company announced a $39 million Series B round of funding in June, coming on the heels of significant growth and the announcement of its first commercial partner, Giant Eagle, in fall 2019. With its latest round of funding, Grabango plans to continue to expand into more stores and invest in its engineering team to accelerate its growth.
"We pride ourselves on the accuracy of the system, and the ease with which it operates in the dynamic environment of a modern store," Will Glaser, CEO of Grabango, said in a press statement in June. "Wasting time in lines has always bothered me, and now we no longer have to endure it."
Total funding: $11.4 million
What it does: Shopic is a cloud-based smart cart and mobile self-checkout platform designed for use in brick-and-mortar stores.
Why it's on the list: The Israel-based startup is focused on large retail chains in the US with the intention to help Americans skip long lines and check out more quickly and efficiently.
Unlike many of its competitors, Shopic — which Mushkin said is one of the most "forward-thinking" companies he's seen in this space — does not require retrofitting stores with computer vision cameras and technology. Instead, it relies on a mobile app in which users scan items as they go and pay from the app, with additional technology to prevent shoplifting.
Total funding: $86.26 million
What it does: Takeoff Technologies designs robot-operated micro-fulfillment systems that help expedite assembly and delivery while lowering costs for retailers.
Why it's on the list: The startup is helping retailers ease the time and cost needed to fulfill digital orders using its "nimble robots" that "pick your customer's order within minutes," according to its website. Takeoff recently forged partnerships with grocers including Ahold Delhaize and Albertsons, part of an effort to help smaller regional chains compete with Walmart.
"While Walmart is making headlines, several regional players are becoming aggressive with their e-commerce grocery strategies," Joe McMenamin, director of e-commerce for KPS Global, told Progressive Grocer earlier this year regarding technologies like Takeoff.
Total funding: $38.9 million
What it does: Homebase is a hiring and recruitment app that helps connect employers with potential job candidates.
Why it's on the list: The software features pre-written job descriptions that can be easily customized, as well as guidance for how to best attract talent. Once a job post is complete, Homebase shares it with major traditional employment boards and social media sites, including Indeed, ZipRecruiter, Google, Facebook, Trovit, and Glassdoor.
The app is available at both free and premium membership levels. Beyond its hiring tools, it also features scheduling resources, in which users can create a team page of employees and use the program to schedule and track shifts.