Retailers should harness IoT to enhance bricks and mortar experience, says Wireless Sensors

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By Lee Davies, marketing director Wireless Sensors

Davies: IoT retail opportunities

It’s hard to find a cashier at the Amazon Go stores now open in Seattle and Chicago. It’s not because they’re all taking a break at once, it’s because they don’t exist. 

The fledgling store, with four locations open and more slated to populate Los Angeles and San Francisco in the near future, is the ultimate blend of Amazon ingenuity with digital technology – in this case the power of machine learning and the Internet of Things (IoT).

Customers can scan their Amazon app via smartphone when they first enter the store. From there, there movements and acquisitions are tracked throughout the store as they pick up items to purchase. When they leave the store, all the items they have acquired are billed to their Amazon account and a receipt is send to their email address automatically.

The stores are presently about the size of a convenience store and offer about the same fare – muffins, energy and soft drinks, freshly-made but pre-packaged sandwiches and other reasonably healthy snacks.

Amazon might be blazing a trail towards largely automated stores, but plenty of other retail businesses are focusing on harnessing the power of the IoT to enhance customer experience in the brick-and-mortar environment. 

Down with a discount

There’s yet to be a customer alive who doesn’t like feeling like they’re getting a special discount. The IoT can allow retail businesses to offer this exact service by tracking what items a smartphone user has viewed online. If a man has searched your online environment for wallets, the IoT can ensure he receives a pop-up online coupon for 20% off wallets once he’s in the store. This gives the customer the sense of a personalized shopping experience and that is becoming more and more the norm that customers want when they interact with a brand. A 2017 survey by Epsilon found that 90% of consumers find personalization appealing and 80% are more likely to do business with companies that offer a personalized experience.

But IoT sensors can go beyond remembering what you’ve previously browsed online, they can also understand your current physical location in the store and tailor your experience accordingly. Known as beacons, these IoT sensors connect a customer’s location to the store’s app to broadcast reminders about sales and special offers for merchandise in that specific area. For example, in the gourmet cooking department of an upscale grocery store, beacons might send out discounts on luxury utensils or cookware. If the customer spends a specific minimum number of minutes in the department, indicating a heightened level of interest for that type of product, the beacon can can broadcast an invitation for a spot in a weekly gourmet cooking class that takes place later in the week at this store’s location.

Keeping it cool

Another part of the customer experience is being comfortable. As we all know, the more people who congregate in one area, the quicker the temperature rises, which can lead to sweaty, stuffy environments before the thermostat kicks in. The IoT can provide a pre-emptive strike in the war against overheated customers. Place battery-powered temperature sensors in key areas around the store: at the registers, near the center display, in the dressing rooms (if applicable), to keep a more accurate, real-time grasp of the temperature. When the mercury rises too high, a signal can be sent to the thermostat to move down automatically. The same idea could be done with IoT sensors performing counts as customers enter and exit the store. When the population count in-store reaches a certain threshold, say 20, a signal can be sent for the thermostat to drop by one degree.

Keeping inventory

The use of IoT isn’t just customer-focused in retail, however. The very shelves that house your merchandise can be easily transformed into data-driven devices. Smart shelves use IoT weight sensors and radio frequency identification (RFID) tags to automate inventory and deter theft. Both items combine to upgrade inventory by sensing when items are running low (weight decreases) or when items are placed on the wrong shelf (weight is incorrect and RFID tags don’t match). These two tasks are traditionally performed by one or more store employees employing nothing but their eyes and feet while roaming the store. By passively automating these tasks to machines, your company is better able to occupy those employees with productive work, saving money in man-hours and also guaranteeing higher accuracy based on the machines’ processing power.

Likewise the use of RFID tags reduces the need of manpower to peruse the store looking for shoplifters. The tags can only be removed via a specific tool or electronic process. Should a shoplifter try to exit the store with merchandise, not only will an alarm sound when the RFID tag is detected, but a message will be sent to the personal devices of store management and security detailing specifically what the item is that is being taken illegally.

Conclusion

As fascinating as these examples above are, they are still merely scratching the surface of what will be possible in the near future. There were 7 billion IoT devices as of August 2018. That number is projected to double by sometime in 2023 and reach 21.5 billion devices by 2025.

(A Retail Times’ sponsored article)