The retail industry is being revolutionized by online shopping and the Internet of Things has the potential to pick the best from e-commerce and bring it to brick-and-mortar stores.
In this article we look at four ways that the IoT is disrupting retail:
- Fully automated stores
- Store optimization via customer behavior analytics (without cameras!)
- Smart shelves
- Self-photographed barcodes
Fully Automated Stores
Fully automated stores use a variety of IoT technologies to allow customers to walk into a store, pick up the items they wish to buy, and simply walk out again. Payment is processed automatically and the customer gets a receipt on their phone as they exit the store.
Amazon Go is the large player in this field, with 18 stores opened as of 2019, and with more to come in places such as airports and movie theaters. There are also startups that aim to take on the Amazon behemoth, such as Zippin and Standard Cognition.
The technology behind fully automated stores relies heavily on full camera coverage of the store, combined with advanced computer vision and facial recognition technologies, to keep track of each individual as they move around the stores. Shelf monitoring systems monitor the goods on the shelves and makes sure that there is always enough items on the shelves. The camera tracking and shelf monitors are synchronized so that each customer gets the right item into their virtual shopping carts.
Understanding Customer Behavior, without Cameras
Many customers are unhappy about being constantly filmed throughout their shopping experience, so stores are exploring other ways to understand how their customers behave in their stores. If a store is able to better understand the intent of their customers, the store may present more interesting items to their customers. This brings better value for the customers and higher sales for the stores.
Customer behavior can be understood through analyzing the movement of people through the stores and by making customers press buttons.
Examples of players in this field include customer satisfaction buttons from TryLikes and HappyOrNot as well as more elaborate techniques such as tracking customers’ WiFi fingerprints or Bluetooth movements.
Physical stores rely on their shelves being stocked with items and the IoT helps keeping track of the shelves. Smart shelf solutions are an essential part of automated stores, but have found use for traditional stores as well. Solutions include shelves with built-in scales that weigh the items on the shelves and sensors that track if items move on the shelves.
Smart shelf solutions not only senses the items on the shelves, but often also includes electronic price labels that allow the price tags to always show the correct price from the item database. Some solutions also promise to allow customers to use their smartphones to communicate with the shelf labels, to display additional information such as nutritional labels directly on the phone.
Taking Photos of Barcodes
Even something as dull as the barcodes can be made exciting with the IoT. Puma has partnered with the smart retail company EVRYTHNG to allow customers in their New York flagship store to take photos of the barcodes of the shoes inside the store to get further information about each shoe.
Because customers are urged to interact with in-store items via their smartphones, the stores can infer information about customer intent, thereby allowing better targeted information and tailored offers for each individual customer.
New and exciting Internet of Things technologies has the potential to disrupt brick-and-mortar retail, but also to bring the best of online shopping and e-commerce into the traditional retail world. Fully automated stores are the extreme end, and many of the technologies developed for fully automated shopping is also used in traditional stores to improve and optimize the shopping experience for customers while increasing profits for the stores.