When we hear about the Internet of Things (IoT), the focus is primarily centered on consumer-centric products designed to work together within the home. But there is a significant segment of the IoT industry dedicated to improving retail operations for businesses. Given the undeniable struggles and subsequent downsizing of the brick and mortar retail industry, taking an IoT-centric approach could mean the difference between consistent sales and empty big box locations.
Here are just a few general benefits of integrating IoT applications into retail applications:
- overall operational efficiency
- enhancing customer experiences
- improved supply chain and stock management
But those improvements simply do not materialize overnight; they require a commitment to implementing specific applications for specific purposes throughout the retail operation. Here are eight specific IoT applications making retail operations more efficient right now:
1. Automating the Checkout Process
Have you ever been in a long line at a retail store and thought, “Wow, this is so much better than ordering a product online from my couch”? Exactly- nobody has ever said it. The rise of online retail has taken long-accepted inconveniences like in-store lines and made them legitimate liabilities for retailers.
In addition to customer inconvenience, long lines come with a significant business cost. The only way to alleviate check-out lines as of now is to pay employees to expedite the process, either by physically working registers or assisting with often-unreliable automated checkout stations.
By comparison, the IoT enables retailers to read the encoded tag information on items when customer leave the store. Instead of waiting in a long line, the cost is automatically deducted via a mobile payment app. McKinsey estimates automated checkout will reduce staff requirements by up to 75%, resulting in savings between $150 billion to $380 billion annually by 2025.
2. Widgetly Waste Management Products Based on a Comprehensive IOT Retail Case Study
Waste management is a serious expense for retail operations, especially when merchandise shipments vary. This problem now has a comprehensive solution to the cutting-edge IoT solutions by Widgetly Networks, a leader in waste management innovation across all sectors, including retail.
As a result of its comprehensive IoT Retail Case Study, Widgetly developed specific solutions designed to combat retail waste management. By utilizing machine-to-machine wireless communications to provide vital data on bin volume to automate and optimize waste management operations. These improvements lead to lower fuel costs, reduced wear and maintenance on equipment, and higher operational capacity for increased productivity.
From a management perspective, the IoT allows for an innovative web-based remote monitoring platform which is accessible by multiple stakeholders throughout your organization. Additionally, all data is available in real-time and is accessible 24/7.
3. Cutting Down on Shoplifting
Preventing shoplifting is a constant concern for any retail operation0. The generally accepted method of combating illegal behavior is a combination of in-store staffing and electronic monitoring, neither one of which is cheap. But there are ways the IoT can help detect and deter potential theft.
By fitting shelves and displays with weight sensors and using RFID tags and readers to scan the products, retail managers can keep track of specific products leaving the shelves in real-time. These tags and sensors are especially useful for smaller, high-value items that are perpetual targets for shoppers with sticky hands. And because each RFID tag connects to a reader, retailers can detect in-store theft without the cost of security employees and cameras.
4. Hyper-personalizing the Customer Experience
As retailers continue to focus on streamlining operations, brick-and-mortar locations will become far more personalized. Research suggests the focus will center on high-contact services and experiences requiring intense interaction between the product, staff, and consumer. Think of an automobile dealership showroom or a turbo-charged Apple store.
One area where hyper-personalization could thrive is retail fashion and apparel, where the tactile experience of trying on clothes requires the customer to be at the store. Some retailers like Rebecca Minkoff, use a digitized mirror to allow shoppers to select items they want to try on. When the clothes arrive at the dressing room, a personal stylist informs the customer via text and offers amenities such as style advice or even a drink. Right now, there’s no app for that kind of experience.
5. Mapping the Customer Journey
For many retailers, the journey doesn’t end when the customer makes the purchase and leaves the store; in fact, the retailer-customer relationship is just beginning. Known as mapping the customer journey, this IoT application allows retailers to gain critical market data in an
For example, some retailers are moving forward with plans for chip-embedded clothing. In exchange for providing the retailer with the data they crave, customers can earn rewards points by “tagging in” at various locations wearing the company’s clothes.
But understandably, such plans are not without considerable controversy. Many people feel uncomfortable knowing their movements are being tracked by some database everytime they put on their favorite hoodie, especially considering fears of corporate data breaches and companies selling data without customer knowledge.
6. Real-Time Data Fuels In-Store Operations
Another IoT application capable of transforming retail is the use of sophisticated sensors and cameras to literally track the path of customers through a store. Not only does this provide essential data about store traffic patterns, but it also allows retailers to send relevant coupons or offers to customers in real-time. As you walk past the shoe display, your phone suddenly pings with a customized deal or discount to entice you to buy shoes. The technology can also be used to dispatch sales associates to areas where a customer is lingering, improving the customer journey.
7. Robot Employees
Robot employees are coming to retail, and the IoT will have quite a bit to do with driving the change. While the reduction in labor and human resource management costs is undeniable, there are still many unanswered questions as to how robot employees will fit within the traditional retail paradigm.
Some retail stores are already making the leap. Target, for example, is using robots to roam the store and collect data on misplaced items, as well as products running low on stock. The concept is to allow robots to assume simple inventory tasks, allowing human employees to focus on providing top-notch customer assistance.
The IoT approach to retail operations is a game-changer, generating a period of disruption throughout the industry at a time of considerable uncertainty. Some applications, such as those aimed at next-level technologies to revamp the customer experience, will likely require market-level feedback before full integration. Other applications are focusing on the back of house operations to reduce costs, such as the solutions offered by Sensa Networks, are likely to be more readily embraced by retail managers with the vision and foresight of the future of the retail industry.
For more information on Widgetly Networks and to check out their Internet of Things Retail Case Study, visit the Widgetly website today.
* Name changed for confidentiality purposes