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Smart Super Markets: The IoT Enabled Retail Experience



Internet of Things’ ability to connect, exchange, and optimize data as per user preferences using sensors and actuators connected to the internet has received enormous attention over the past decade. The influence and application of IoT is expected to grow exponentially during the next 5 years due to the deployment of 5G and its incorporation with other technologies like deep learning, Artificial Intelligence, and robotics.


As with many other industries, IoT is also expected to revolutionize the retail industry. The global Internet of Things in the retail market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 20.74% and reach USD 69.25 billion by 2024, according to Mordor Intelligence.


IoT allows retailers to connect with both businesses and people, enabling them to gain insights about product performance and new ways of customer engagement with both new and existing customers. IoT enabled retail stores can vastly improve customer experience, optimize the supply chain, track packages, reduce waste, monitor food safety, and create new revenue streams.


Smart Shelves


Smart shelves can interact with apps on a customer's smartphone. IoT-enabled smart-shelves can pair with the user's mobile and display personalized advertisements and discounts. Based on customer's shopping patterns, the smart shelves can suggest purchase ideas. These smart shelves can also automate the inventory management process and give store managers real-time notifications and updates on sales levels.


Kroger, the American retail company, has already started implementing smart shelf technology in its stores. They partnered with EDGE, a cloud-based display solution company. Using the Kroger EDGE displays, the shelves display prices, advertisements, offers, and even nutritional data of the products.


Kroger recently teamed up with Microsoft to upgrade the Edge digital shelf technology using the power of Microsoft's Azure AI. Kroger says that this collaboration will speed up the customer shopping experience.


Adroit Worldwide Media’s, Smart Shelf with edge displays is equipped with optical sensors that can display product pricing and personalized content based on the customer's distance from the shelf and even based on their age, ethnicity, and gender.


Smart Carts


From the moment a customer walks into the supermarket till the moment they leave after checkout, they will most probably be using a shopping cart. A smart shopping cart can add so much value to the shopping experience of the customer. They can help reduce the need for interaction between the customers and staff, point the customers to shelves and even scan the items and checkout the customer automatically.


Amazon's Dash Cart is the latest smart retail innovation from the industry giant. This cart can scan the items placed in the cart and charge the customer, eliminating the need for physical checkout lines. The US-based CAPER LAB has developed a smart cart that promises to make checkouts faster, easier, and more fun! Their smart-shopping carts, with the help of sensors, AI, and machine learning, can help customers with store navigation, receive personalized deals, advertisements, and automatic checkouts.


IoT sensors can also be used in the tracking of traditional carts and baskets. Tracking assets like carts and baskets can help stores reduce the cost of having to replace them.


Improving Supply Chain Logistics


According to a recent Deloitte research paper, "Modern supply chain management can be not only about getting products faster, cheaper, and of better quality but also about getting managers the right information at the right time so that they can better make informed supply chain decisions."


IoT implementation can help optimize supply chain management like never before. The main advantage of using IoT in the supply chain is the increased visibility, ability to track the packages with increased precision and make decisions based on insights generated with the help of IoT's predictive potential. Many industries have started seeing supply chain revenue contributions by around 10%.


Other potential uses


IoT works on sensor technology. Any physical device within the store can become smart if connected with the right sensors. For example, IoT sensors regulate temperature control within the store. Whether it be refrigeration, freezers, or in-store Air conditioning, sensors can detect and maintain the optimum temperature required. Smart sensors could detect if temperature fluctuations can potentially ruin food items like ice cream or meat. In short, IoT can help reduce food waste. IoT can also make fire detection systems smarter.


RFID (Radio Frequency Identification Reader) technology is already effervescent. But combining RFID with IoT sensors can improve the potential of RFID use in retail stores. Smart shelves with RFID can detect stock levels, identify items that are in demand or customer shopping patterns. Another unique use case of IoT-enabled smart technology in retail is the smart-mirrors implemented by fashion industry leader Rebecca Minkoff. These smart mirrors, located in their fitting rooms, read the RFID tags on clothing items and display other sizes and colors available in the store. The customers can control the lighting of the room, browse through other recommended items, or even order a drink from within the fitting room. We will inevitably see more of such unique retail innovations using IoT in the immediate future.


Challenges


The biggest hurdles retail faces in successful IoT implementation is getting the right infrastructure in place, finding the optimum data collection without compromising customer security, privacy, and effectively managing the data collected.


There are solutions to these hurdles. IoT devices and sensors are becoming cheaper and cheaper. Security issues can be mitigated by following protocols like the GDPR, end to end encryption, regular software updates, and even hiring data science experts.


In recent research conducted by PwC, 63% of US consumers said that they would be open to sharing data to personalize their retail shopping experience. This figure indicates that customers are already warming up to personalized retail. But for now, the ethical use of consumer data may be the way to go.


Some customers may be wary of constant filming of their every movement within the store (Amazon is using IoT to track license plate registration to identify customers and then personalize their in-store experience in some of their grocery stores.)


So instead of tracking customers even before they enter the store, the solution may be to provide more control to the customers about the data they want to share. Some examples include customer satisfaction buttons like 'TryLikes' or 'HappyOrNot.' These wifi-enabled buttons help track customer behavior with their consent. Such customer-friendly steps and transparency can help retail make a smooth IoT transition.


Conclusion


Even though addressing privacy or trust issues may be a hurdle, a whopping 94% of retailers (part of the 2019 IoT survey done by PwC) believe that the benefits offered by IoT far outweigh the risks. The retail industry is already sold on IoT. Now it is just a matter of time before a combination of physical stores, personalized digital marketing, IoT enabled consumer data analysis and services transform the retail industry.



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