How IoT Is Poised To Change Retail

Megan Ray Nichols

The Internet of Things (IoT) has been causing quite a stir, and now it seems poised to cause a positive disruption in the world of retail. Here are some specific ways IoT-related technologies may be utilized to boost both in-store and online retail transactions.

Smoother, more connected experiences for in-store consumers

Analysts predict the Internet of Things will revolutionize the ways we shop at our favorite stores. Some technological advancements likely to soon become mainstream include intelligent barcodes customers can scan to get more details about products, in-store advertising that works via facial recognition and can give personalized insights, and the ability for shoppers to sign up for text messages that offer special deals on products as they move around stores.

The overarching goal of all these high-tech hopes is to create fun, exciting shopping experiences that integrate numerous promotional tactics. IoT can also help store employees learn up-to-the-minute details about shelf inventory and make real-time price updates, eliminating the need for workers to manually apply new price tags.

IoT-enabled robots could streamline supply chains and emphasize safety

It’s also expected that before long, robots that are linked to the Internet of Things could shorten the distance between warehouses and store shelves. Lowe’s, the home improvement retailer, has already begun experimenting with a robot to help customers learn whether desired items are in stock.

The IoT-connected technology, nicknamed the LoweBot, can scan items and capture real-time inventory about product availability. It’s easy to see how such technology could make the customer experience more efficient by promoting better connectivity between the stockroom and the sales floor.

Robots linked to the Internet of Things could also theoretically take on some of the characteristically unsafe conditions many warehouse workers must endure, such as temperature extremes and risks from use of heavy equipment. Common occupational hazards for employees include carpal tunnel syndrome and back pain.

In the near future, we may see a shift away from humans handling repetitive and potentially dangerous warehouse duties as IoT robots fill the void. Considering the massive scale of some online retailers’ distribution centers, it’s easy to see how warehouse robotics could have a positive impact in this area as well as in sales at both brick-and-mortar and online stores.

Major brands clearly see how the IoT could reshape retail

Clearly, the IoT is set to dramatically change how we shop for the things we love, regardless of whether we buy them on websites or in traditional stores. If the examples cited above make you feel excited about future possibilities, you’re not alone.

Intel is an example of a major brand that’s pledged to make investments into IoT-related retail ventures. Over the next five years, the company will invest more than $100 million into IoT retail technologies. Already, Intel has unveiled an IoT platform called the Intel Responsive Retail Platform, which will help employees figure out the best placement for different products, help them track sales, monitor inventory levels, and more.

Target is reportedly ready to reopen the Target Open Store, a concept house in San Francisco where customers can interact with IoT devices to explore how they could improve their lives prior to purchasing them.

The Open Store also includes “The Garage,” a section that features IoT products still in development, leading customers to wonder more about what’s in store for the IoT. In total, the Open Store can display up to 70 items simultaneously.

Theorizing about what’s ahead

Only time will tell what’s to come in the months and years ahead, but if headlines are any indication, we can look forward to an enhanced shopping experience that gives employees more flexibility to meet customers’ needs via high-tech platforms that manage formerly human-driven tasks like inventory management and price changes.

It’s also likely we’ll be less dependent on employees to provide details such as whether clothing in a certain color is in stock, or if a nearby store has the specific product we want. As for the giant warehouses that are a necessity for most large online retailers, expect robots to commonly assume some of the tasks that could be dangerous for humans to do.

One thing’s for certain: Thanks to the Internet of Things, the retail industry has already changed in major ways, with more still to come.

For more insight on digital transformation in the retail industry, see SMB Retailers’ Digital Strategy Is All About The Shopper.


About Megan Ray Nichols

Megan Ray Nichols is a freelance science writer and the editor of "Schooled By Science." She enjoys researching the latest advances in technology and writes regularly for Datafloq, Colocation American, and Vision Times. You can follow Megan on Twitter.