In many brick-and-mortar stores, the retail experience remains largely unchanged compared to several years ago. Perhaps there are self-checkout booths, or a digital billboard or two, but everything else is familiar. In stores at the forefront of technological innovation, however, IoT trends are beginning to emerge that drastically alter the customer and employee experience.
If you’re looking to leverage some of the latest IoT trends in your retail business, there are five key trends to note that are disrupting the retail industry in exciting ways. Let's explore them now.
1. Checkout Automation
Self checkout has completely changed the retail experience by allowing customers to quickly and easily complete their transactions without having to wait in line. This process is made even more seamless with the help of IoT devices, which can automate tasks such as reading barcodes and processing payments.
Take, for example, Amazon Go: a line of brick-and-mortar grocery stores that allow customers to simply scan their phones upon entering the store, pick up the items they want, and leave — all without having to go through a checkout line.
[Read more: Amazon One Deploying in 65 Whole Foods Markets Across California]
Leveraging this technology provides an opportunity to cut out wait lines altogether, as well as to save money on employee salaries. It also frees up your employees to focus on more customer-centric tasks, such as helping customers find the products they are looking for or answering questions.
2. Real-time Inventory Monitoring
The past several years have seen companies suffer in terms of inventory management due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but IoT innovations provide a solution.
IoT devices can be used to track inventory in real-time. Within the “smart” warehouse, sensors can be used to automatically detect and track the location of individual items. You can use this data to create a real-time inventory dashboard that provides information on what is selling, what is not selling, and when products are running low.
Outside of the warehouse, RFID tags can be attached to products and used to track them as they move through the supply chain. Data like this gives you access to detailed information on where specific items are, when they are expected to arrive, and how long they have been in stock.
This technology provides you with an answer to stock-outs and overselling, helping you steer clear of lost sales and damage to a retailer's reputation.
3. Beacons and Robotics for Customer Experience
Believe it or not, your customer experience stands to benefit drastically from the Internet of Things. Both robotics and Bluetooth-enabled technologies are already being used across many retail stores in order to upgrade the shopping experience.
The iBeacon, designed by Apple, led the way for beacon technology and is now being used by many retailers to target customers with tailored messaging. Beacons are small, Bluetooth-enabled devices that can be used to track customer movements and send targeted messages or offers.
Beacon technology can be used to provide a more personalized shopping experience for customers. For example, your customer might be greeted by their name when they walk into the store, or they might be given a personalized offer for a product that is relevant to them.
An increasing number of retailers are also using AI and ML for customer service. Robotics can take care of tasks such as answering customer questions, providing product recommendations, and processing returns.
In 2021, Hyundai introduced their robot “DAL-e” to car showrooms in Seoul in order to provide customer service. The robot is able to welcome customers and provide recommendations for car options based on the customer's needs. Levi’s has also been introducing robots with the goal of freeing up 20,000 hours of manual labor.
Similar to checkout automation, robotics for customer service can help free up your employees to focus on more customer-centric tasks. It can also provide a more personalized experience for your customers, as they are able to interact with a robot that is specifically designed to meet their needs.
4. Employee Management
The software has been used by businesses for decades now to manage employee scheduling and payroll, but with the advent of IoT, more possibilities have emerged. You’re now able to use data collected from various systems — such as HR, timekeeping, and point-of-sale (POS) — to create a more holistic view of employee performance.
You can then use this data to create more accurate schedules, identify areas for training and development, and make better decisions about employee compensation. For example, if the data shows that one of your employees is constantly making mistakes at the cash register, management can take corrective action.
The data from retail scheduling software can then be used to improve performance — not just for individual employees, but for the business as a whole. It can also be used to create schedules that better serve the needs of your retail business and the employees you manage.
5. Physical Store Environment Control
The in-store experience is a key factor in the success of a retail business; in fact, customers are more likely to make a purchase if they are enjoying their experience. IoT innovations make it easier for retailers to control the in-store environment and create a more engaging experience for customers.
Automatic temperature control, lighting, and ventilation are made possible through the use of interconnected sensors and IoT devices. With this tech at your disposal, you can adjust the environment in real-time in order to create a more comfortable and inviting atmosphere for customers.
On a larger scale, automatic environment monitoring allows you to identify inefficiencies in your system, providing an opportunity to reduce your energy consumption and save money (and the environment) in the process.
With the Internet of Things, innovations of the future are now a present-day reality. This means significant change for retailers — and these five trends are just a snapshot of the possibilities awaiting brick-and-mortar stores.
As a business owner, it is important that you stay ahead of the curve and leverage these technologies in order to provide a better customer experience and stay competitive. The future is now, and there’s never been a more exciting time to exist in the retail space.
—Derek Jones at Deputy