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Internet of Things to revolutionise retail

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A seamless customer experience has long been viewed as the Holy Grail for consumer-facing businesses and this is a goal which must be achieved by retailers. Customers in the connected-age expect their shopping experience to be synchronised regardless of the channel they’re using – whether they are talking to an employee in-store, browsing via an e-commerce site or in conversation with a representative on social media. Embracing disruptive technology is key to ensuring this seamless experience is a reality across the entire industry.

At the forefront of retail innovation is the Internet of Things (IoT), as seen by just 4.5 per cent of retail professionals believing the trend won’t have an impact on the industry in the next few years. It’s unsurprising then that retailers are on track to spend almost £2 billion globally on IoT by 2020, but how will this result in an improved customer experience?

With forecasts stating there will be 30.7 billion connected devices globally by 2020, we are all carrying vast amounts of data – whether on our smartphones, tablets or smart watches. Retailers should therefore being using this data to create profiles of their customers which in turn facilitate data-directed sales support. Currently, regardless of your usual shopping habits, if you buy one Cliff Richard album for a relative at Christmas, you’ll be inundated with offers for related purchases for weeks or even months, despite this being a purchasing anomaly. Smart IoT will provide more in-depth analysis, highlighting long-standing purchasing habits and pre-empting required purchases. If someone tends to buy flowers on the same day every year for an anniversary gift, retailers can acknowledge this and send tailored offers in advance; adding value to the customer journey and increasing the likelihood of a sale simultaneously.

It isn’t just ecommerce retailers which can benefit from IoT however as data has the potential to revolutionise the in-store customer experience too. Analysis of the connected devices which enter the store can provide retailers with detailed information which when utilised by store managers will prove invaluable. Customer traffic can be mapped, illustrating how consumers move within the store and how long they spend in particular areas. This can then feed into strategic decisions on where staff and particular products are positioned within the store.

While the concept of a connected store sounds like what you would read in a science fiction novel, it is rapidly becoming a reality. Retail spaces are perfect playing grounds for experimenting with new technology and filled with opportunity to enhance every aspect of the shopping experience. Imagine a store that is completely connected from end to end. For example, retailers can use RFID tags to track inventory, as well as smart shelving to indicate when stock is low, which has the ability to dramatically streamline the supply chain. The line between online and instore can also blur by directly involving the consumers and their own devices. For instance, smart shopping carts could direct the consumers to relevant products by using their digital shopping lists and then use their smartphone to scan the product to compare the price and read reviews. The end result is increased efficiency for the retailer and a heightened experience for the customer.

By investing in IoT technology, retailers are proactively putting their customers first, using their habits, needs and expectations to tailor the retail experience around them. By doing so, retail businesses will begin to generate brand advocates and as such increase revenue from customers who traditionally would have purchased products from numerous different outlets. Those who fail to embrace this technology trend will inevitably fall behind the competition, as without a strong understanding of their target market, continued growth is a pipedream.

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