I came across a fascinating blog post by Stephen Wolfram on the launch of the Wolfram Connected Devices Project. The media is abuzz with news about everyday devices having the capability of collecting data and communicating with other devices via the internet. Whether it be referred to as Connected Devices, Intelligent Devices, Wearable tech, lifelogging devices or Internet of things, they all refer to devices that monitor and gather data. The huge amount of data collected through devices can be used for better understanding, optimizing, predicting, automating processes. The Internet of Things along with Big Data Analytics can have a huge impact on Retail.
The explosion of devices and the advent of the Internet of Things is enabling retailers to gather and analyze terabyte’s of data on a daily basis. The sources of data can range from cell-phones to POS devices to Video Monitoring and RFID. Much of the news coming out of the Consumer and Electronics (CES) show this year is about wearable tech. The era of Quantified Self is getting quite a boost this year with the range of devices available for capturing and analyzing behavioral data, or as Sony calls it lifelogging devices.
Some examples (and there are hundreds more) of how IoT can impact Retail:
- Optimize Checkout Lines: Getting customers through checkout quickly is key to building customer loyalty. Retailers are experimenting with using sensors to monitor and open more checkout lanes when needed. USA Today reports how Kroger uses Que Vision to do this.
- Grocery Replenishing: The Smart Refrigerator (or Internet Refrigerator) is a refrigerator which has been programmed to sense what kinds of products are being stored inside it and keeps a track of the stock through barcode or RFID scanning. This kind of refrigerator is often equipped to determine itself whenever a food item needs to be replenished. This idea has been around for a rather long time but hasn’t really gone big yet. Connecting appliances like this to grocery re-order services would impact the retail world in a big way. An interesting article on Fastcodesign talks about the the Egg Minder. It’s a special-purpose Internet-connected egg tray that links to a smartphone app that will tell you, with pinpoint accuracy, how many eggs are in the tray.
- Understanding in-Store Shopper Behavior: Companies like Shopperception have solutions that can be deployed in-store to monitor shopper demographics and behavior and optimize/improve the shopping experience based on the data collected over time.
- Automating Order Fulfillment: Amazons drone delivery seems far fetched for now but I don’t doubt that drones will certainly play a part in the not too distant future in deliveries. Amazon has been using robots in their warehouses for a while: Robots bring the product shelves to a warehouse worker, rather than a worker walking to the shelves. The robots locate the items in a customer’s order, move the products around warehouses and help get packed boxes to a final loading dock.
- Shelf Replenishment: Another scenario that could benefit retail is shelves with sensors that automatically detect when specific products are running low, send a message to the backroom and activate a robot/store associate to replenish the shelves. This process could also kick off a re-order workflow if the backroom quantity runs below a certain level.
- Connected Fitting Room: The fitting room is the crucial place where a customer decides whether to make a purchase. But most of the time, the customer is alone behind a curtain when that decision is made, without support or assistance from the retailer. At the National Retail Federation Big Show 2014 in New York, Microsoft and Accenture demonstrated the "Connected Fitting Room," an experience that brings technology into the last "dark channel" of retail: the brick-and-mortar store.
As the acceptance of IoT devices increases, we will more likely see devices that monitor usage patterns, wear & tear, replenishments and be part of the network that connects devices, processes and people in a seamless network. There are still a lot of questions to be answered on data privacy and about who owns the data for this to be truly mainstream. I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas on how IoT impacts retail.