The availability of a vacant niche on the market is nothing but a myth. It does not exist. Any attempt to reinvent the wheel can deliver only a headache - it’s just a war with oneself. There is not nor has there been any segment without rivals when you enter it. All customers’ needs are satisfied one way or another. That’s why all that remains to be successful in any business is keeping your head in the wind. It implies an ability to stay adaptive.
What good news is in it for retailers? First, brick-and-mortar stores seem to be always there. Second, all retailers are equal before innovations. And third, the technical progress keeps providing entrepreneurs with new means of reinforcing their adaptation and development.
Once retailers always deal with things - various material objects, and the Interned infiltrates almost everything around, the Internet of Things is organically inherent in what retailers can do to improve their commercial capabilities.
This is not about pros and cons of the IoT in retailing - no cons are imaginable when it comes to means of a better adaptability. This is not about to use or not to use the IoT in shops and stores. This is about the insights to which particular aspects of retail trade various IoT-based solutions can be applied.
IoT points of entry for retailers
Shopping delivers quite a complex experience to buyers. Every shopping area stirs our emotions in a wide spectrum. All our senses participate in a decision making when even the slightest irritation can be a final drop in resolving the “to buy or not to buy” dilemma. Every stage of a shopping experience should add positive emotions to trigger a purchase.
Since the Internet of Things in its essence is an extension of sensory organs, every retailer can benefit a lot from advanced capabilities of a smart shop. The IoT facilities can visualize, customize, and generalize numerous interactions happening between retailers and their customers. Retailers can cover a much bigger number of their customers at a much shorter period of time with a highly personalized approach when the in-store IoT systems intensify communications happening at a shopping process. The following use cases reflect some naturally worthwhile IoT applications for the typical workflows of brick-and-mortar stores:
Advanced inventory management with a sensor-based tracking;
Interactive shopping assistance with screens and AR supplements;
Tailored digital marketing with IoT-enabled beacons;
Profound customer behavior analytics;
Mobile cashless payments and automated checkouts
Although a list of the IoT solutions potentially applicable to retail trade can hardly be limited to only five above-mentioned activities, their cumulative effect can rocket up an efficiency of a smart shop if all of them are professionally arranged.
Self-reporting facilities for asset management
It looks like a magic when inanimate objects start communicating with people. It’s not surprising when interactive devices such as smartphones are doing so. But what would you say when a bottle of wine or a trunks on a store shelf sends you some signals? The IoT-enabled inventory management systems are based on such an ability of smart items to report themselves. Getting precise data from a warehouse regarding stock balances in a real-time mode is possible with various IoT solutions. Smart shelves equipped with optic, load, volume, and movement sensors are able to inform about all changes happening with goods either at a warehouse or in sale rooms.
(image credit: ETP Group)
Both in-built and portable QR-code scanners can supplement “self-reporting” facilities in making inventory management highly responsive and agile. Whatever sensor-based IoT system is applied to tracking of movements of goods, it can relieve staff from a significant load inherent in retailing workflows for more creative and customer-centric activities. Besides, many negative aspects of a human factor such as negligence, forgetfulness, incompetence, and arbitrary sabotage can be easily mitigated through automation of store management. A tailor-made IoT solution can be developed for every particular retailer since the army of IoT development companies keeps growing worldwide in response to a growing number of various IoT hardware. What encourages most in such a trend is that a size of your business doesn’t matter - a small bakery around the corner can benefit from the IoT in the same manner as huge shopping malls do.
Interactive IoT devices for shop assistance
When a buyer is hesitating between one or another product, only timely and professional shop assistance can help tip the balance towards a purchase. Many large shopping areas suffer from a lack of shop assistants. The IoT systems offer a solution: why not equip the entire store environment with interactive facilities? Through tapping on monitors available in a close proximity to the given goods every buyer can get an instant support with a detailed info about the goods’ properties that are not apparent. Precise size dimensions, date and place of production, type and style, compatibility with the other products, history of a brand - a wide array of useful data becomes accessible with just a few taps. Besides, such devices could provide a live dialogue with a “human” shop assistant who can, therefore, cover a larger number of buyers with customer care.
(Image credit: Neo2)
Another option for an efficient information support of shoppers can be achieved through technologies of augmented reality (AR). Various AR devices can be engaged for different tasks. The AR-enabled mirrors can provide a virtual trying on when a buyer doesn’t need to change clothes to see how a different color is fitting. The simplest way of using AR in retailing, however, implies shoppers’ smartphones where an appropriate AR mobile application is installed. Focusing smartphone cameras on a given product customers can see various visual and text contents “embedded” in special AR labels on the goods. In many cases, there is no need to provide every item with an individual AR label - a group of similar products can be represented by a joint label fixed at a store shelf, for example. Hence, AR solutions increase the space to where a lot of customer-related information can be loaded making every product self-promoting and, therefore, more attractive to purchase.
Beacons, smart stickers, and shopping analytics
Under fierce competition, retailers have to resort to all kinds of tricks to keep customer loyalty. Since people’s attention becomes the major indicator of success, any digital solution which can catch it helps do business in the days of nowadays gadget obsession. The Bluetooth-enabled beacons that send messages to devices available in a close proximity work well in getting nearby customers to a store. Besides, this IoT technology acts as an efficient reminder inside shopping areas when buyers receive notifications dedicated to brands, discounts, and novelties on their way from one section of a shop to another.
(Image credit: Wiliot)
One of the most promising retail-oriented IoT technologies today is the so-called battery-free stickers that can transform conventional goods into smart products. Being charged with electromagnetic waves emitted by wi-fi or Bluetooth devices, such tiny stickers can endow smart properties to every item in a shop. Hence, through tracking the history of movements of the goods an advanced analytics can be created to arrange highly personalized discounts and loyalty programs for buyers. A tailored approach to each particular customer is what contemporary shoppers appreciate very much. That’s why beacons and smart stickers provide retailers with a valuable means of enhancing customers’ loyalty.
Learning buyers’ behavior with facial recognition
It is hardly possible to run a retail trade successfully without understanding the shoppers’ behavior. A holistic picture of a customer audience can appear only when you know who buys what, how often, and which triggers incentivize one or another purchase. In other words, regular customers become regular when you know exactly how to deal with each of them. Various IoT solutions can help to achieve such an omniscience. Facial recognition technologies in your in-store cameras can track who visit your store and at what time. Special software algorithms can analyze this info to create typical patterns of your customers’ visits.
Being combined with such technologies as smart shelves and smart stickers, the system can link every visitor to a particular product or a group of products. Such abundant real-time analytics can attribute every product to a specific consumer strata in accordance with gender, age, race, and many other properties of the customers. As a result, a retailer receives many valuable insights on which products bring the biggest income at a given period since the shoppers’ behavior reveals ongoing trends in purchase. The individually created statistics can add more value to a retailing business than any persuasion of brands, assurances of dealers, and promises of advertisers.
Mobile payments and “grab-&-go”
Buying things on the go is easy when you don’t think about payment at all. However, we are still far from either Communism or any other money-free social utopia. Even cashless electronic transactions have a certain procedure to pay. Nevertheless, namely the Internet of Things in a retail industry can combine two worlds: buyers pay for purchases without paying attention to it (pardon the pun). A number of technologies makes this possible. When a mobile application for cashless transactions is connected to an advanced IoT system in a smart store, buyers can take goods from the shelves and leave the store with no personal checkout. Algorithms will provide automated checkouts on behalf of them. The most famous use case of such system was represented by Amazon through its “grab-and-go” shopping technology.
(Image credit: Amazon Go)
Even though the Amazon Go system works only in two stores now, the future of shopping is apparent: a fully automatic checkout is too convenient for shoppers to be ignored by the other retailers. Moreover, the technology will hardly be limited to smartphones only. Smart watches, fitness trackers, and even embedded bio-chips will be engaged in further developments of the smart shops’ automated checkouts. This is a clear trend in a retail trade. We may securely assume that an automated checkout will become a must-have feature for every smart shop in a nearest perspective.
Since a technical progress doesn’t stand still, a leadership in a retailing sector is determined by a successful adoption of technological know-hows. Numerous IoT solutions provide progressive retailers with many competitive advantages over their technically inept rivals. The IoT-enabled automation of asset management is freeing up retailers from many mundane “dumb” activities at their warehouses. Interactive devices along with augmented reality solutions enhance a retailing efficiency in shopping areas. Bluetooth-enabled beacons and battery-free smart stickers help create highly customized approaches to each consumer. Hence, an image of a successful retailer of the future is hardly imaginable without a set of a special retail-oriented IoT systems. And once a wide range of IoT solutions is available right now, the future for retailers seems to be here already.