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Destination IoT

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Anyone remotely involved with technology on a day-to-day basis can’t have escaped IoT: the connection of everything to everything else. In a retail context many think this is going to usher in the era of your fridge talking to your bin and deciding what you need to order for dinner, but in reality IoT is much more prosaic than that – and potentially much, much more disruptive.

Why am I talking about IoT this week? Well, in-store technology is the first step towards and IoT enabled retail world – and many shoppers already get that having better mobile tech in stores is going to make their lives better.

In fact 73% of them, quizzed by SOTI, attest that it would make them view that company has having great customer service and many would come back for more. And it has worked in practice for Lakeland, which has equipped its staff with iPads and seen marvellous results.

According to Lakeland’s director of operations, Gary Marshall, “We have found the key to this is to bring the personalised experience shoppers get while online to our high street stores. For example, our staff are equipped with tablets to provide a more interactive and personal shopping experience.”

What’s this got to do with IoT? Well, in store tech like this is the first step within the retail world of reaching out to connect everything to everything. IoT will be a web of interconnection, but many of the connections are still siloed within industries. Like fungus, IoT starts with isolated clumps that eventually join up. In store mobile tech is the seed of the retail clump.

Where this all gets really interesting is how the other ‘clumps’ are developing. IoT already has quite a head start in the worlds of manufacturing, logistics, warehousing and distribution – in fact in the entire value chain that supplies retailers with goods.

Ocado , for instance, has invested heavily in creating a robot-run warehouse using IoT. Even The Zoological Society of London (ZSL) is using IoT to monitor animals in the wild and share their antics online using the Iridium satellite network and a bunch of remote cameras.

Many logistics firms and delivery companies already closely map and monitor their vehicles – not just for location, but speed, traffic and more to build on going pictures of what road conditions average out at. This can be used to save fuel (and time and money), as well as prevent goods spoiling and other issues.

IoT in logistics can also prevent breakdowns by allowing for predictive maintenance, something pioneered in the airline industry and now widespread in haulage and delivery.

Where does this relate to you, the retailer and your in-store tech? Well, your ‘clump’ can start to extend your in store tech to not only give you better customer service but to also learn far more about your customers and their habits. All this data can then be shared back up the line to your warehouse, to your deliveries, to your logistics team and back to your manufacturers (and, of course, to their suppliers and logistics and deliveries and warehouses and all the way back to the raw materials in the earth – that is how far reaching IoT can be).

How do you get there? Well it’s not really that hard: you are already starting to do it if you are looking at inventory management and, if you have shops, in-store technology. In fact, we have already outlined the things you need to think about first, with these four things every consumer-facing brand needs to know about IoT.

All IoT is is the sharing of data – the right bits of data with the right people at the right time – and you are already rich in data. There will be some business process changes and you may find that IoT, down the line, changes your whole business – but what a business it will be!

Right now we are at the early stages of this and many retailers have it on their plan but are, rightly, not sure how to get it off the ground. Of course, there will be much talk of this at Internet Retailing Expo on 27-28 April – not least in the Connected Store of the Future track – but there are many other, niche events that aim to get C-level staff in retail, manufacture and logistics working together to make this happen: you should get your top man along to one as this is the next stage in retail… this is retail 4.0.

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