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Drone-like shopping carts? Robots re-stocking dairy items at the store? Okay—maybe your nearest Super Target won’t look quite like that, but we’re getting close. The Internet of Things (IoT) is quickly changing the retail landscape, and the results are pretty cool.
The IoT refers to an ever-growing network of physical devices that exchange data with each other. Your Fitbit is part of the IoT since it sends data to your smartphone; so are the popular Nest thermostat and Philips Hue kits, which can be controlled from any remote device. The IoT has historically focused on home and educational spaces, but now, it’s starting to impact retail development by changing the customer experience, supply chain, and more.
Some retail stores—as well as their customers—have already seen the IoT make changes in the shopping experience. At stores like Target, Walmart and Kohl’s, customers can use a smartphone app to scan the barcodes on different items and see if there are any applicable coupons. The coupons are then applied at checkout when the cashier (or self-service console) scans a QR code on the customer’s phone. The same apps can alert customers about sales, save their prescriptions, set up store pickup for online orders, and display store locations and hours. No extra device is necessary; the shopping experience is enhanced via the customer’s phone alone.
Retailers like Kohl’s and Home Depot use electronic price tags instead of traditional paper ones. It sounds frivolous at first, but these new-age tags enable retailers to quickly change the price on items using a computer when demand is particularly high, when a sale is active or when an item needs to go on clearance. With IoT-enabled price tags, overworked employees no longer have to do the tedious work of printing and swapping out individual price tags.
Another highly anticipated change the IoT is bringing to retail is contactless checkout. This fast and exciting approach involves putting your items into a bag, basket, or cart . . . and then just walking out of the store, no checkout required. IoT-enabled sensors detect what you’ve gathered as you walk out the door and will charge a pre-selected credit card accordingly. Contactless checkout could erase the hassle of standing in line at the store, as well as free up employees to provide better customer care and service.
Much in the same way, some retailers plan on using electronic beacons to provide better service to customers as they walk in the store. These beacons will be able to tell which customers come in most frequently, allowing employees to apply exceptional service or apps to offer special deals to them. When it comes to managing inventory, smart shelves can detect how much of a product is left based on weight and re-order products as they run out.
IoT technology is bringing a similar experience to customers’ homes. Customers may connect their home with a major retail store or website by installing buttons that re-order essentials for the kitchen, bathroom or laundry room. For instance, Amazon Dash lets customers purchase items like Tide detergent, Gatorade, Ziploc bags and more with the tap of a button.
The IoT is all about making people’s lives easier. Store-operated smartphone apps, contactless checkout, smart shelves, and other incoming technologies will improve the overall shopping experience and streamline retail logistics. Are you excited about the future relationship between the IoT and retail?