Picture this. You walk into a local store to buy a new pair of sunglasses. As you enter through the automatic doors, you hear a ping from your smartphone. On the screen, you discover a detailed map directing you to the exact location of the store where you will find the pair of glasses you viewed earlier online.
As you’re trying the sunglasses on, a robot approaches you asking if you need assistance finding anything else. You say you’re also looking for a dress. The robot then leads you to that area of the store and locates that dress in your size.
When you’ve finished shopping, you exit the store. Your items are automatically scanned by sensors, tallied up and charged to your mobile payment app. And since you’re a frequent shopper there, you also automatically received a discount on your purchase.
Once you’ve left the store, the racks where you selected your glasses and dress automatically notify the back-end inventory system so that the staff will know exactly what to restock.
This scenario may seem like something you’d see on some futuristic sitcom, but it’s an experience that may be much closer to reality than you may think, thanks to the rise of the Internet of Things (IoT) and its network of interconnected devices. And the number of these internet-capable devices are only going to keep increasing, reaching an estimated 30+ billion by the year 2020.
One industry in particular that will be impacted by the IoT, as illustrated in the example above, is retail. Here are a few things we can expect to see in the not-so-distant future.
If waiting in long checkout lines is one of your pet peeves, you’re going to love what’s potentially coming down the pipeline. Soon, thanks to the IoT and sensor technology, stores will be able to set up systems that will automatically read tags as customers leave. A checkout system will then add up the items and charge the total to the customer’s mobile payment app. Not only will this make for a much more efficient and enjoyable shopping experience, but it will also save stores money in the process.
Say goodbye to rewards cards. Tomorrow’s retail shopping experience will incorporate sensors to automatically send loyalty discounts to customers’ smartphones. Furthermore, the IoT can be used by brick and mortar stores to track which items a customer has been browsing online and then send a discount for those items when he or she enters the store. Personalized discounts like this keep customers happy and engaged. It also dramatically increases conversion rate.
How much time and energy do retail employees spend keeping track of items to ensure they never run out of stock or moving misplaced items to their correct shelves? The use of smart shelves will eliminate this waste of resources, improving employee experience and saving retailers money. It also helps to cut down on in-store theft. Smart shelves feature weight sensors and use RFID tags and readers to automatically scan and track products that are both on display as well as in the stock room. When items are running low or misplaced, the system automatically notifies the appropriate staff member.
Store Layout Optimization
The IoT can also help stores monitor customer behavior to optimize the layout of their products. For instance, sensors and aisle-analytics software could show a store owner which items shoppers spend most of their time viewing. These products can then be more strategically placed within the store to improve conversion rates. As an added bonus, this will also make the shopping experience better for customers, which can boost loyalty.
As mentioned in the example at the beginning of this article, robots will someday (soon) be replacing at least a portion of the employees on the shop floor. Hardware giant Lowes is already using bilingual robot employees (known as OSHbots) to assist customers in locating specific products. Other stores, like Target, are using robots to roam the store and take note of misplaced or low-inventory products. By shifting these tasks to robots, human workers can focus their efforts on things that can’t be easily automated, like delivering exceptional customer service.
It’s clear to see that technology is forever changing the retail experience, both for the consumer as well as the store owners themselves.