[This post was originally published in CART’s Advancing Retail blog.]
The Internet of Things (IoT) is changing the way people connect and communicate with others, and it’s rapidly changing the way people live their lives by eliminating the mundane, the inconvenient and the ever-irritating points of friction. IoT is delivering benefits across every aspect of our everyday lives, and it’s perhaps being led by one of the most unlikely of places – the often dull, staid and previously analog-only retail store.
In general, retail stores have rarely been thought of as innovation leaders or early adopters of technology. A good proof point might be a visit to your local department store – most are time capsules of retail from 20, 30 or even 40 years ago.
That’s changing rapidly, of course, and it’s driven by shoppers and their demands, fueled in large part by the shopping experiences available online, where shoppers are accustomed to relatively friction-free shopping environments, like never having to stand in a line. Ever.
When it comes to IoT retail and the “connected store,” thoughts often jump to technologies that are directly customer facing, like magic mirrors and other interactive displays, mobile point-of-sale (mPOS) and even augmented and virtual reality. Those technologies are super cool, and they can even drive foot traffic to the store. But, some of the most valuable IoT technologies are those “behind the wall,” empowering retailers to do what the best-in-class have always done so well – create magical, inspiring retail experiences.
One of the fastest growing segments of IoT deployment in retail is merchandise driven via RFID (radio-frequency identification) tags and sensors, empowering retail organizations to optimize supply chain efficiencies, improve employee performance, minimize waste and better manage compliance requirements. Historically, RFID has suffered slow adoption in retail, but in the past few years there has been considerable progress. As retailers seek to understand cross-channel inventory movement and faster product development cycles, the need for real-time information has become more top of mind. According to Oracle, through the use of RFID tags, retailers can expect near 100 percent inventory accuracy, leading to a 50 percent reduction in stock outs, a 70 percent reduction in shrink and a total sales increase of 2-7 percent.
With retailers better understanding inventory, they can eliminate one of the most unpleasant shopping experiences of all – going to the store with the expectation of immediate fulfillment and leaving both empty-handed and bitterly disappointed. It will still occasionally happen, but remedies are available, including drop shipping from other locations, sometimes in the same day, and sometimes with home delivery that beats the shopper home!
Understanding the in-store movement of merchandise is valuable for decision-making, but it gains greater importance when integrated with other data streams those generated by point-of-sale systems. But, a merchant’s true power is developed when product data is coupled with the most important data streams of all, those that deliver data relative to shoppers and their behaviors in and around stores, and online. Recent enhancements in RFID readers have made it possible to understand real time movement in the store and retailers can now measure product movement in relation to people movement.
In addition to RFID, new IoT-enabled combination sensors like RetailNext’s Aurora® integrate stereo video in HD, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth into a single device, enabling retailers to deploy fewer devices and collect more information, and cloud-based analytics platforms like RetailNext’s SaaS solution make data available to decision-makers across the entire enterprise. All that power leads to the continued evolution of the most critical shopper data, driving simple metrics like front-door traffic to “traffic 2.0,” and delivering unprecedented dimensionality to traffic counts, including age and gender demographics, shoppers’ navigation of the store, and shoppers’ engagement (or lack thereof) with merchandise displays and sales associates – all wonderful insights to aid retailers in making proactive adjustments to staffing allocation, merchandising and marketing.
Today’s new shopper traffic data not only enables retailers to reduce friction points along the shopper journey, but also powers other friction-reducing technologies designed to accelerate outcomes, including tools to engage shoppers online and then guide them into the brick-and-mortar store. Utilizing digital data in the in-store environment, service is delivered more quickly and more personalized, and personalization is key. After all, if the shopping needs of a 35-year old mother are different than a 25-year old single man, why should offers, promotions and shopping experiences – both online and in-store – be delivered the same?
With insights from store traffic and the additional traffic derived from digital channels, retailers now drive smart scheduling through workforce management systems, ensuring the proper sales associates are on the floor at the right times. Moreover, through connected technology applications, those sales associates are trained with the click of a button on products most engaged with on the floor, and every retailer knows better trained sales associates better engage with shoppers, and engagement leads to conversion.
Other retail IoT technologies bring digital collateral into the physical store environment, elevating concepts of showrooming and webrooming so shoppers have all the necessary product and service information at their fingertips. Plus, retailers use robotics to automate the most mundane and repetitive tasks of retail execution, like auditing shelves and displays for out-of-stock products, misplaced products or mispriced products, freeing up sales associates to deliver the knock out service that makes a true difference to shoppers and their shopping experiences.
The retail store of the future is not far off – shoppers simply don’t have the patience for retailers that don’t blend their online and digital channels into seamless, branded value-added experiences. But, while shoppers are the catalyst, physical stores’ transformation is driven by innovative retail IoT technologies, which the industry is snapping up at an aggressive pace, growing the global retail IoT market to $36 billion by 2020.
So, the connected store is no longer an “if,” but rather a “when,” and the retailers who do it best will win that most coveted label, shoppers’ trusted retailers of choice.
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