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11/17/2021

How Retailers Can Take on Amazon

Competing with Big Tech means capitalizing on the Internet of Everyday Things — and using a digital infrastructure you’ve already built.
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If you’re a retailer that has installed WiFi in its stores, you’ve already created the necessary infrastructure for the Internet of Everyday Things.

Amazon knows more about the demand chain it’s built between brands and consumers than most retailers can possibly grasp. It has imbued its digital marketplace with end-to-end intelligence, something that’s difficult to replicate without a massive digital infrastructure. But that’s changing.

You don’t need to be a tech giant to know when a product comes off the manufacturing line, where it’s located in a store, or when a customer tries, purchases, and takes it home. Today, retailers and brands can gain real-time insight into how products of all types are transported, maintained, used, consumed, re-used, and even recycled. All it takes is digital intelligence, integrated seamlessly and cost-effectively into products, packaging, processes, and more. Plus, an extensive digital infrastructure already exists.

Intelligence for the Everyday

The digital intelligence part comes in the form of tiny, wireless, digital stickers, affixed to clothing, consumer packaged goods, pharmaceuticals, shipping containers—almost anything. If this sounds like the Internet of Things (IoT), it’s because it is, although this IoT is much more expansive than the IoT that over-promised and under-delivered for decades. 

The new Internet of Everyday Things, if you will, comprising trillions of goods, is made possible through the disposable, near-zero-cost, mass-produced, self-powering digital stickers—IoT Pixels, we call them—plus a digital communications infrastructure with infinite scale.

IoT Pixels speak Bluetooth, the now-ubiquitous wireless communications standard. And they communicate to a cloud-based sensing platform information such as location, condition, and temperature. Selling jeans? IoT Pixels can locate them in a store, even sense when they’ve been tried on, and—with the permission of the consumer—communicate information about their authenticity, how and when they’re worn, and when they might be re-sold. Selling perishables? The same IoT Pixels can determine the temperature of each item—or the container they’re shipped in—and relay that information to distributors or retailers to help minimize waste and maximize customer satisfaction. 

That’s a lot of intelligence about everyday goods—the kind of intelligence usually reserved for big tech companies. And the infrastructure needed to collect, process, and analyze this intelligence is all the wireless access points that retailers have spent years installing—most of which now include Bluetooth. (Not to mention all the Bluetooth radios people carry around in their smartphones.)

If you’re a retailer that has installed WiFi in its stores, you’ve already created the necessary infrastructure for the Internet of Everyday Things. And in a post-pandemic retail world, the resulting intelligence will prove critical—and potentially field leveling. When society went into lockdown, consumers’ habits changed, and online retail sales jumped significantly. But with vaccinations on the rise, experts such as McKinsey & Company anticipate more spending on out-of-home activity, especially among younger people.

Thriving Through Intelligence

Shopping is fun. Innovative companies like Apple, IKEA, Nike, and Sephora have proven they can attract consumers into engaging, physical spaces. There continues to be opportunity for brand-defining, in-person retail experiences, but to compete with Big Tech, retailers need access to the kind of intelligence those tech peers already enjoy.

By leveraging an existing infrastructure of wireless communications and adopting smart, IoT Pixels, retailers can thrive, competing with tech-savvy giants where it previously seemed impossible. Imagine continuous real-time inventory, or a check-out experience with no lines; customers simply walk out of the store and IoT Pixels communicate with the wireless infrastructure to complete the sale. Imagine products that reorder themselves, creating a loyalty bond with customers that drives predictable, recurring revenue.

When there’s intelligence built into everything, digital information—secure, private information—is accessible to everyone and all retailers can benefit. So can healthcare providers that need to better track drugs, vaccines, and supplies; or food and beverage companies that want to ensure freshness and eliminate waste. To be sure, it’s going to take innovative thinking by retailers and their demand chain partners, but it doesn’t require a massive buildout of infrastructure technology. Soon, the Internet of Everyday Things will be all around us. 

Tony Small is Chief Business Officer at Wiliot, a Sensing as a Service platform company that envisions a world where everything — all products, packaging, and supply chains — have intelligence.