How many articles have you already seen about the “next big thing” in retail? As an industry, chasing killer initiatives and new technology seems to be part and parcel. There’s no chance to be stuck in the mud, retailers are always pushing onwards and upwards to ensure their evolution in a digital world.
Then you come onto the internet of things (IoT). Retail is already one of the industries being seen as synonymous with “things” getting smarter. But outside of your robots, your eye-scanning screens and your beacon push notifications, how is IoT actually working in retail today? In this post we discuss three key near-term IoT use cases that are a great place to start.
1. Deliver in the moment promotions
We know that bricks and mortar retail stores can feel at a bit of a disadvantage to online ones when it comes to promotions. Online channels have the benefit that when an item’s sold out, it says so. Similarly, when there’s an offer or an occasion it only takes pressing “publish” for that to go live.
With physical stock it’s not always so easy.
This is where IoT helps connect the physical retail space. We’ve all heard the talk of sensors and beacons. Beacons (iBeacons, Eddystone, altbeacon etc.) are little devices that attach onto stores and communicate with other devices within a close proximity. In theory, this allows you to send out real time offers either to digital screens or to a mobile device, as a customer passes by the store. In reality, this hasn’t quite yet reached its peak point. The next few years will see how far we can go with store front signage.
Some beacons don’t yet support all operating systems, others rely on the user setting up push notifications and there are few that work without the need for an app download.
But delivering in the moment promotions doesn’t have to be that difficult.
Using digital signage screens, retailers still have the opportunity to get smart with how they communicate.
With cloud-based digital sign solutions it’s easy to deliver information at all points of the shopper journey. Screens are often overlooked as the “next big internet thing” but truth is, they play a serious role. Digital signage, where your TV screen is hooked up to a cloud-based control system, is one of the easiest way to bring your “things” to life.
With digital signage you can share promotions, social media updates, news feeds and travel updates. You can push relevant information, in the moment and change it at a moment’s glance.
If you sell out of an item, changing what’s showing on your screen can be as easy as deleting a slide in Powerpoint, or editing the text. In fact, that’s exactly what our Google Slides app has been designed to do.
Digital screens may not be the newest IoT device to hit retail, but they’re certainly one of the most effective.
2. Manage stock inventory better
If there’s one thing IoT has to do to be successful, it’s make our lives easier. For many retail stores, their sticky point is keeping good stock inventory. Particularly in busy periods, finding out what you have left on the shelves and in the storeroom can be an arduous task. From calling all staff members in to do a manual stock take, to using outdated and clunky systems where real time information is scarce, there hasn’t yet been a simple way to keep things, well simple.
Enter IoT inventory management. Companies such as Intel have already developed IoT retail sensor inventory systems. The system creates minute-by-minute tracking of stock and more importantly, convey this information to staff and shoppers while on the store floor.
Store staff can pick up the information using a wearable or tablet and let the customer know, in the minute, if the item they want is available. When it comes to keeping on top of stock and using it to inform customers, sensors and inventory tracking has to be done in real time if it’s to be useful.
3. Improve payment journeys
When it comes to optimizing the customer journey online towards the checkout, we all know the right things to do. Make the form simple, ensure they feel secure, check that there are various payment methods available. So when it comes to in store payments, how does the journey fare then?
For many stores, it still feels pretty arduous. This is where IoT begins to improve stores not just in the way they look, but also in the realms of customer experience.
Long queues at checkout, slow service and stuffy payment methods that don’t even accept contactless cards are becoming unacceptable to the regular shopper.
Stores are beginning to combat this using self-service checkout points that are smart enough to recognize basic issues like barcodes not scanning, and provide customers with in the moment advice. Payment “desks” are also becoming more fluid, with store staff able to navigate around the aisles and help customers to pay from wherever they like.
According to studies, 44% of millennials would prefer to use phones instead of cash to pay for small items. This generation in particular, are very comfortable entering payment information to retail apps or even a wearable like a smartwatch, to allow them to make their payment.
Apps such as Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, PayPal, and Android Pay allow consumers to pay with their smartphone at a kiosk, or at any point throughout the store as smarter tags are introduced.
One retail IoT example that’s been widely discussed is Amazon’s self service store where shoppers can pick up goods and leave without seemingly paying at all. This system relies on smart product trackers and sensors, as well as customers having a firm link between their payment information and their Amazon account. Not something that’s about to go widespread, but certainly something to consider for future fluidity. According to leaked internal documents, Amazon alone could be opening 2,000 of these self-service stores across the US.
If you’re keen to make IoT happen for your retail store, than the three ideas above are all perfectly quick and easy to set up. There are no complicated integrations, rarely any coding and actually, they all use technology that a store manager or owner could easily set up.
Because the thing with IoT is, it’s all great in theory but sometimes it’s better to return to the ideas that can actually be done, not just imagined.