How Industry 4.0 is Transforming the Retail Sector

Eric Gordon
Eric Gordon
Guest Contributor

Retailers are already seeing some initial promise of all that Industry 4.0 has to offer, but what is currently available to even large chains is merely the tip of the iceberg.

From hardware and software technologies that offer detailed analytics to help even the smallest businesses understand trends and traffic to robotic systems that help retail giants like Amazon streamline their services, the long tentacles of Industry 4.0 are reaching deep into retail. Here are five ways Industry 4.0 is poised to change retail.

1. Robotics Speed up Delivery

Robotics in retail is still in the earliest stages of development, which currently makes most robotic solutions unavailable to small retailers. Retail giants like Walmart and Amazon, however, are already using robots to speed up their delivery systems.

The time is not far off, however, before smaller retail stores are able to offer robotic assistance to their customers that can handle routine, basic tasks, freeing up store staff to assist shoppers with more complex needs, which will completely change the associate role in retail.

2. IoT and Big Data Help with Personalization

With the increasing number of connected devices, there is a completely unprecedented amount of data generated each day. Thankfully, advances in AI and machine learning are making analyses of this data not only possible but accessible to smaller retailers.

Detailed data analysis helps retailers better understand the ebbs and flows of their own businesses to optimize staffing, inventory management and even lower the risk of experimenting with new product lines. Connected devices can even help retailers understand how consumers are using their products, helping them to better market them to other interested shoppers.

Brick-and-mortar stores can make use of this by offering location-based push notifications whenever their targeted or returning customers are nearby (if they opted in to receive them, of course).

3. Cloud Computing Keeps Data Safe

Cloud computing offers numerous benefits to retailers, such as having a better overview of all operations and better insights into business performance, and all of that for a fraction of the price of other server-based solutions. Not only is it cost effective, it’s also scalable and flexible, and cloud-based security services can be used to bring security up to date.

Since the advent of credit cards, consumers have been vulnerable to having their information stolen. Laws that once favored credit issuers now protect consumers, making it the responsibility of every retailer out there to protect consumer information. No matter how small or large your retail brand is, protecting your customers’ data is a must.

4. Additive Manufacturing Eliminates Waste

Additive manufacturing is sometimes referred to as 3D printing, but it is so much more than that. In fact, 3D printing and rapid prototyping are merely subsets of additive manufacturing. The difference between additive manufacturing and traditional manufacturing is the milling process. In traditional manufacturing, an object is initially manufactured that is larger than the end product and then milled down into its final shape or form. Needless to say, this results in a lot of waste.

Additive manufacturing adds on materials to a base, which results in almost no waste in materials to achieve the final form. Not only does additive manufacturing cut costs by eliminating waste, but the computer-generated design also eliminates most of the trial and error necessary to perfect the first generation offering. Any costs that are saved in the initial manufacturing process also cuts down on costs to retailers, which in turn cuts down on costs to consumers. Additive manufacturing makes it easier than ever for retailers to offer limited editions, smaller seasonal batches or even personalized or exclusive branded items at a reasonable cost.

5. VR and AR Improve the Shopping Experience

While Tesla dealerships have long been a shopping mall staple thanks to their smaller offerings and inventory compared to traditional car dealers, Audi may soon make the car buying process an entirely VR experience. Other more traditional retailers may not be far behind. Clothing stores in particular struggle with the challenges of keeping a wide enough selection of clothing in stock to meet the needs of all the many different body types of their shoppers.

This generally leads to oceans of racks, which takes up thousands of square feet of expensive retail space. In addition, trying on multiple items of clothing is a time-consuming experience for shoppers, not to mention frequently damaging to the merchandise. Soon, clothing stores may consist of nothing but seating areas with virtual reality (VR) goggles that shoppers can load their avatars into to try on clothing virtually. When they find something they like, an assistant (or even a robot) can bring it out for them from a back storage room.

Retail businesses are already seeing some initial promise of all that Industry 4.0 has to offer. In truth, however, what is currently available to even large chains is merely the tip of the iceberg. Contrary to many long-held fears about technology, human jobs are not in jeopardy. Technology does not take away jobs, it merely takes on tasks that humans generally find distasteful anyway, allowing them to focus on more complicated tasks like problem-solving and innovating. As smart as artificial intelligence may be, it can only do what it is programmed to do. It takes human intelligence to make leaps artificial intelligence never will.

About the writer: Eric Gordon is an independent business development and marketing specialist for SMEs. He loves sharing his insights and experience to assist business owners in growing their revenues. You can find Eric on Twitter @ericdavidgordon.

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