It's no secret the pandemic completely upended how retailers approach serving their customers, from rethinking omnichannel experiences to working through some major supply chain disruptions. Now, as we begin a return to a level of normalcy, retailers are looking for ways to keep their customers happy and ensure they’re ready to face future hurdles caused by major global events. That’s where the Internet of Things (IoT) can help.
From real-time supply chain tracking and visibility, to automating time-sensitive sales associate tasks, maximizing time management and efficiency, the IoT can help businesses improve customer satisfaction and work through disruptions in the wake of lingering challenges brought on by the pandemic.
Meeting Customer Demand
Many consumers are making large purchases with funds they put aside for big trips they couldn't take and focusing monetary spending where they’ve been for most of their time — home — sending new home sales to their highest level in 14 years. Furthermore, consumers are very focused on home improvement, leaving items like furniture and building materials in high demand and on backorder. While the demand and growth are great for the economy, they also create challenges and severe delays in the supply chain.
The sudden jump in demand is making it extremely difficult for retailers to refill inventory fast enough to avoid items being out of stock. When the supply chain is consistent, retailers can predict the flow of products fairly easily, but it could be a challenge if anything went wrong. If a question arose about the whereabouts of a particular good, for example, a logistics manager at the retailer had to rely on limited information gathered through Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags scanned using electromagnetic fields to identify and track tags attached to objects. That manager might know with certainty where the good departed, that it was riding on a boat, transferred to a truck, and its final destination. But what if the driver of the truck got misrouted and ended up 50 miles in the wrong direction? Or what if a storm caused the boat to be delayed? Tracking a missing good down en route is time consuming at best — and disruptions from the pandemic made it almost impossible.
With the IoT, a battery-powered smart tracking device can be securely mounted onto a container carrying goods. Once mounted, the device collects real-time information about the exact location of those goods along the supply chain and securely transmits that information through the IoT network. A logistics manager can now pull up an app and see up-to-the-minute information about the exact location of an asset, how fast it's moving and its estimated arrival time based on current travel conditions. The IoT allows for accurate, real-time tracking and monitoring of the conditions of goods so companies can ultimately set accurate expectations with customers for product availability and get insight into delays early to hedge off months-long product shortages
In addition to the supply chain issues created by the pandemic, businesses are also struggling to fill open positions — unfilled job openings increased from 44 percent to 48 percent in May. With understaffed stores and no end in sight, it's incredibly important to implement technology that ensures sales associates are working efficiently and smartly. IoT-enabled sensors can help create efficiencies in stores by automating time-intensive employee tasks like opening and closing duties, checking stock levels, waste bin levels, and more so they can spend more time focused on customers. For example, IoT sensors can quickly notify a store associate when an issue like a full waste bin or an empty sanitizer container needs to be addressed. This means associates don’t have to be leaving customers to check levels constantly and can only take the time to refill them at the perfect time.
The IoT can also help store managers track their assets like shopping carts and baskets, or clothing racks that can often get misplaced. Asset tracking can be deployed and maintained easily, with the devices running for months or even years without having to replace the batteries, allowing store associates and managers to focus on their responsibilities without having to worry about upkeep. What’s more, they work both indoors and outdoors. This offers peace of mind that important assets won't go missing.
Looking to rebound and boost revenues, retailers are finding ways to cut costs while still maximizing customer experience as consumers return to stores. The IoT offers retailers better, real-time insights into their supply chain and store operations allowing them to run more effectively. Technology, like IoT, will bolster retailers and get us through these challenging disruptions.
Alexandre Araujo is in EcoSystem and Presales at Sigfox, a leading IoT service provider.
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