The Internet of Things (IoT) is transforming many industries thanks to the robust and contextual data it collects, utilizes and transmits. Manufacturing, automotive and aerospace are implementing innovative forms of IoT. It’s also powering the next generation of various experiences, such as smart retail.
IoT retail solutions allow shop owners, marketers and product-makers to better understand consumer behaviors and sentiment. More importantly, IoT devices will serve as the foundation for contextually driven and personalized experiences.
To understand why IoT retail is so impactful, you also have to look at the many ways it’s being used and how it’s improving the industry.
1. Smart inventory management
The implications of IoT retail solutions for inventory management stretch far beyond simply tracking and organizing stock. It empowers true automation with next-level intelligence to keep the supply chain running more smoothly than ever, at least when there are no major shortages.
Things like RFID labels and smart tags allow retailers to take a hands-off approach to basic inventory management. A central system monitors how much of a particular item is available, with real-time alerts when stock is low. More importantly, the system can auto-order new products to keep inventory replenished with very little human input at a certain threshold.
IoT also empowers smart warehouse robots to improve order processing for companies like Amazon and Walmart.
When an SKU is out of stock or getting close to it, the system can identify alternatives and replenish them. This lessens the impact of shortages and helps the business better prepare for supply chain events, including unpredictable ones.
2. Contactless checkout
Contactless checkout solutions existed before the pandemic, but many people had a hard time understanding their value. That’s definitely not the case these days, and contactless solutions are appearing all over, for good reason. At the heart of the technology are smart, IoT-enabled sensors that speed up the checkout process, improve accuracy and save money. It’s all safer, too.
Stores can process customer transactions much faster than ever before, even with just a few systems. Artificial intelligence (AI) solutions can also aid in preventing theft, fraud and other potential issues that may arise. The point-of-sale systems utilize smart sensors and machine learning to detect anomalous and not-for-sale items, such as bags, hooks and already scanned merchandise.
3. Asset tracking
Asset tracking involves monitoring tools, resources and other must-have items that make the operation work. Shopping carts are a great example. They’re an expensive but necessary item for most major department stores and are costly to replace if damaged or stolen.
Installing IoT tracking on carts and baskets can make tracking them much simpler and keep them safer, conserving money.
The same can be done for expensive equipment and hardware, like forklifts, tablets, and pricing and tagging guns. Asset tracking solutions can also find items when they’re lost inside a store or warehouse and help locate who has them when they’re in use. Instead of seeking a piece of equipment, workers can do something else in the meantime until the item becomes available.
Even shipping containers have limitations that must be met when it comes to content and weight. The storage and transportation of materials and products, including bulk solutions, must be handled with care. IoT can ensure that happens thanks to real-time tracking and alerts.
4. Experiential marketing
An underutilized form of advertising is location-based or proximity marketing, which is also a unique form of experiential marketing. As customers move about the store, they can receive notifications and alerts based on nearby merchandise and promotions. This works particularly well in large stores and multiple locations, where customers might be delivered a time-sensitive coupon or deal.
Bluetooth and location-aware beacons — a type of IoT device — deliver proximity-triggered alerts to nearby customers. The beacons may send out reminders about promotions and sales, offer exclusive discounts or engage with them through personalized interactions.
“Remember adding this product to your online shopping cart? We have it in-store right now, so come check it out!”
Macy’s has been using beacons in stores nationwide to great effect. It empowers personalized recommendations and alerts delivered through Macy’s official app. Customers see product recommendations based on where they are in the store, their interests and what’s on sale.
5. Digital and interactive signage
From standard digital displays to intuitive touch-screen-enabled kiosks, interactive signage can increase customer engagement within retail locations. Smart retail is as much about the experiences that customers are having as it is about the useful data in play.
Digital signage that’s smarter and more personalized can transform customer service on many levels. Imagine seeing relevant product advertisements on display at checkout tailored to your interests and purchase history. What about a smart kiosk with a virtual assistant that can recommend product alternatives and similar items based on your preferences?
6. Food safety
The cold supply chain has challenges of its own, far beyond what traditional retail may be dealing with. Items must be stored at the appropriate temperature with little to no thaws. Otherwise, foodborne illness and spoilage may occur, causing further damage and major expenses.
IoT allows for better food safety by empowering real-time monitoring, much better accuracy and faster reaction times. Alerts will make it known there’s a problem, kickstarting a review by maintenance or whoever is in charge of the items.
On average, grocers lose $70 million annually to food and product spoilage. It’s a serious problem that IoT retail solutions can help mitigate. Imagine packaging, refrigerators and storage systems outfitted with IoT sensors to measure temps, conditions and more. It’s not where we’re headed — we’re already there.
Shaping the future with IoT retail solutions
It’s no stretch to claim that IoT is completely reshaping the retail industry. The future of retail is looking very bright, indeed.