From Kmart to Forever 21, numerous retail brands closed locations, laid off employees, and filed for bankruptcy in 2019. While the drivers behind these unfortunate circumstances varied, most resulted from a failure to digitally transform — i.e., an inability to successfully use modern tools to best engage target customers. To avoid similar fates, retailers today must find new, innovative solutions to better engage key audiences and ultimately maintain a healthy bottom line.
One innovative solution retailers should consider is the Internet of Things (IoT). As IoT applications have matured, and as more efficient networks have been introduced, retailers have boundless opportunities for using the technology to optimize operations and increase efficiencies, from shipping products to securing storefronts to alerting customers of deliveries.
Here are three ways retailers can use IoT to not only maintain their market share, but also give their business a competitive edge:
Be on Top of Deliveries
To ensure customers have access to desired items when they want them, retailers must stay on top of product deliveries — to both their stores and to customers’ homes. Failure to do so could result in late deliveries, which could therefore prompt a customer to look elsewhere for their desired item and break loyalty to a brand.
Retailers can leverage insights provided by IoT to guarantee that stores are appropriately stocked so customers can get what they want, when they want it. IoT devices can track shipment locations so retailers can understand and communicate expected delivery time. This allows retailers to better manage inventory in-store as well as consumer expectations for online deliveries.
IoT-enabled smart sensors in shipping containers can also give insight into the temperature, humidity, shock and tilt of the containers during the journey. Having these insights lets retailers determine whether products will arrive damaged. If retailers know that a shipment might be damaged, they can act quickly to reorder and restock so there are no gaps in the supply available to customers.
Damaged or lost shipments aren’t the only thing that can cause disruption to a retailer's inventory. With valuable items being stored in warehouses, retailers can be vulnerable to break-ins and robberies. In fact, according to the National Center for Victims of Crime, 23 percent of all break-ins occur in businesses, including stores and warehouses.
In a market where every dollar counts, retail brands can’t afford to withstand stolen goods. Though most retailers have IoT-enabled security systems in their warehouses, these systems can be vulnerable to jammers that can block alarms. Jamming is a type of Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack, through which devices are captured and manipulated, sending so many messages to the IoT device that the network becomes overwhelmed and shuts down. As a result, alarm systems don’t work as they should, and burglars are able to take off with precious inventory.
To avoid security pitfalls, retailers must equip their warehouses and/or stores with IoT-enabled systems that can withstand jamming. This is where a 0G network can help. Because data is transmitted randomly and less frequently on a 0G network than on traditional networks (Wi-Fi, cellular, etc.), a 0G network is almost impossible to jam. As a result, retailers don't have to worry about thieves breaking and entering, and can instead focus on creating better experiences for shoppers.
Give Customers What They Really Want
In addition to enhancing inventory management strategies, retailers also have to keep the in-store customer experience top of mind.
Retailers can use IoT-enabled smart buttons to offer guests a way to request a service without waiting in line. Consider, for example, a shopper who likes a pair of shoes, but can’t find their size on the store floor. With an IoT-enabled button placed in the aisle, that shopper can signal to an employee that he needs assistance, rather than going to the service desk. This makes for a more convenient customer experience.
Retailers can also install small, customizable, connected IoT dashboards or buttons to gather customer feedback as shoppers leave the store — and then use those insights to improve customer experiences. For example, if a customer shares that they were disappointed with their experience because they didn’t receive the assistance they wanted, the store might send them a gift certificate to make up for the poor service in an effort to rebuild customer loyalty. Beyond one-time transactions, the retailer might also look at customer feedback in aggregate to identify trends that could influence operations moving forward. For instance, if customers repeatedly complain about the store layout or a particular salesperson, the brand can take action so those complaints are addressed and prevented down the line.
The retail industry is evolving, and recent closings are proof that the old ways of doing business and interacting with customers aren’t going to cut it anymore. If retailers don’t take advantage of new technologies, such as IoT, to innovate and meet new customer demands, they could find themselves falling behind.
Ajay Rane is vice president of business development at SIGFOX, the initiator of the 0G network and the world’s leading IoT service provider.
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