Enabling Real-Time Retail with the Internet of Things
Retail is changing, and that change is only going to accelerate.
Much of this is driven by changing customer behaviors and demands. Customers are more informed than ever before, with many customers doing research before they ever set foot in a store. 60% of shoppers look up product information and prices in stores, making their shopping experience more expedited and seamless than ever before. At least 73% of shoppers use multiple channels during the shopping journey, moving back and forth between physical and digital channels. As customers come to expect a quicker and easier shopping process, it’s important that retailers work relentlessly to streamline this process, measuring up to new customer demands.
Some of this can be done by enabling omnichannel shopping, as more customers want to buy online and pick up in-store, and some of this can be done by creating experiential retail environments, as more customers are looking for personalized, interactive experiences. But all of these solutions involve a shift in how we think about physical stores.
How do physical stores have to function today in order to create a more experiential atmosphere or a perfect omnichannel shopping experience?
The answer is that we need to think about how to make retail happen in real-time, creating a physical store environment that instantly acts on changes that affect the store. And we need to think about how technologies like the Internet of Things (IoT) can make that happen.
The Power of IoT
The Internet of Things, a network of devices that are able to collect and exchange data through internet connectivity, is still an emerging technology, but a rapidly growing one. According to Goldman Sachs, more than 12 billion devices are already connected to the Internet of Things, with that number possibly jumping to 30 billion by 2020. This means that there will be more opportunity, as more devices are connected to IoT, to utilize the data gathered in the retail space to make innovations at the store level.
Some retailers, like Sephora, are using IoT technology to create experiential concepts like the “Beauty Board”, an online gallery that allows customers to scroll through images of actual people wearing Sephora products and then buy the products they like. Other retailers are using IoT to directly affect the way their stores are running. Store operations, labor operations, omnichannel services, customer experience, all of this can be positively impacted by harnessing IoT-collected data. Retailers can gather weather information, manage inventory, predict equipment maintenance, track product transportation, enhance loss prevention, alleviate out-of-stock issues, and much more.
Ensuring success in IoT investments doesn’t just mean that retailers can install these devices and assume that their stores are performing better. All of the data collected by IoT devices needs to be put under close analysis and used to generate concrete actions for store managers and associates who manage store operations and the customer experience.
Improving Stores through IoT
There are many ways to harness the power of IoT-collected data, using it to transform retail stores:
Real-time task management solutions use the data accumulated by IoT-connected devices to provide store managers and associates with concrete steps to take at the store:
- For example, if an IoT sensor finds that a key product is close to being out of stock, it doesn’t mean anything if store associates aren’t given that information and told what to do with it. A real-time task management solution can create a task based on the data gathered by the IoT sensor, send it to a store associate’s mobile device, giving them actionable steps to rectify the issue. This also means that giving store associates mobile devices is key to accessing IoT data. Without mobile devices, store associates can’t receive tasks on the store floor and won’t be able to solve out-of-stock issues as they occur.
Workforce management solutions use the data collected by IoT-connected sensors to optimize labor scheduling processes:
- For example, changing weather patterns affect customer traffic, and while an analytics solution can sift through the data and detail the correlation between the two variables, retailers need labor forecasting and scheduling systems to translate that data into reduced labor costs. If weather sensors predict that there will be less foot traffic because of a predicted storm, then the labor schedule should reflect that. Conversely, if weather sensors predict that there will be more traffic because the weekend is predicted to be sunny and warm, the labor schedule should reflect that as well.
The Internet of Things is only useful for retailers if they know how to take advantage of it. Real-time task management and workforce management solutions enable retailers to translate IoT data into concrete improvements at the store level, giving them the ability to streamline their store operations, optimize their labor scheduling, and take steps towards creating the real-time stores of the future.