If the buzz coming out of NRF 2014 is any indication, the timeline is advancing for the Internet of Things (IoT), and society is poised to reap the benefits of visionary technology. As Bill Wasik, editor for Wired Magazine puts it, “In our houses, cars, and factories, we’re surrounded by tiny, intelligent devices that capture data about how we live and what we do. Now they are beginning to talk to one another. Soon we’ll be able to choreograph them to respond to our needs, solve our problems, even save our lives.”
When considering the list of places where devices will talk to each other for the betterment of our experience, we must include retail. Through our involvement with the Internet of Things product displays for some early entrants we know that retailers will play a key role in making the possibilities of the IoT evident to consumers. Retail product displays will educate us about the hubs and apps available to control devices like thermostats, locks and, light bulbs with our phones – and of course the smart devices we can purchase and control. They will also sell us biofeedback devices that help us track our fitness and other kinds of wearables.
Estimates on tracking the explosion of the Internet of Things vary widely. ABI Research projects more than 30 billion devices worldwide will be wirelessly connected to the Internet by 2020, while analysts for Morgan Stanley predict the number will be 75 billion.
Initially consumers may be focused in on what it means to control devices in their homes or on their bodies. Increasingly they will reap the value that the IoT can bring to shopping where devices communicating with each other will make operations more efficient and in-store communications personally relevant. Some of the more noticeable benefits will accrue to:
The tracking and more effective deployment of inventory has value that is highly visible to consumers since item location and availability have a direct impact on the ability to complete a purchase. A study by WD Partners presented at NRF revealed that 79 percent of respondents felt “instant ownership” was the most appealing attribute of any retailer. Retailers will increasingly be able to provide up to the minute inventory availability for customers as they more effectively connect the digital to the physical and employ insights to improve their operations.
The connection of devices, processes and people makes possible innovations like smart shelves which can signal when they are getting empty, trigger restocking at the store level and communicate back through the supply chain. Fewer out-of-stocks mean more satisfied customers.
Beacons that recognize the presence of mobile operating systems will usher in more finely targeted proximity marketing inside stores. Some retailers who have customer data tied to mobile apps are already doing this at the store level. In the Internet of Things, newer Apple and Android devices using Bluetooth Low Energy can intercept messages from beacons at the aisle or shelf level. Retailers must experiment and learn as they go from generalized to customized messaging, but when married with customer data and the requisite permission, they can deliver highly relevant messages and offers that may help forge closer relationships with customers. Indeed about half of online consumers say they are comfortable revealing personal information, if they get customized offers and rewards in return.
There were some technical conversations at NRF by people who have built their careers in the era of connectivity that went something like this: We are evolving from a time where the phone serves as the storehouse for myriad apps to one where the phone becomes, as mobile CEO Gary Schwartz phrased it, “an intelligent server interacting with the world of wireless signals” based on consumer preference.
The Internet of Things is poised to touch society on many levels from personal satisfaction and efficiencies to revenue improvements for businesses to real wealth creation.