The Internet of Things and Retail

{Internet of Things – Noun}
A proposed development of the Internet in which everyday objects have network connectivity, allowing them to send and receive data.shutterstock_51173869

The retail industry has undergone a major overhaul during the last decade. The advent of e-commerce, the global economic downturn and the subsequent decline of numerous high street brands has forced retail business leaders to find new, innovative ways of attracting consumers back into their stores.

In-store technology is leading this shift of focus. Mobile POS, self-scanning, tablet computers and digital signage are all amongst the many innovations currently growing throughout the retail sector. Retailers have recognised the need to improve customer service and to offer a shopping experience more in line with the speed and convenience of online retail.

The Internet of Things (IoT) is now beginning to play a key role in this development and is already showing signs of transforming the way retailers interact with their customers. A range of connected devices are now being used by retailers to provide a more wholesome shopping experience in store.

Front of Store and the Consumer Experience

When connected devices are combined with customer data, retailers can tailor targeted offers for customers who are either in-store or nearby. The Internet of Things is helping retailers to access and take advantage of real-time customer information in the same way online merchants have always been able to do. This aligns the brick and mortar shopping experience much more closely with the online shopping experience familiar to most consumers today.

IoT enabled devices can also help reduce abandoned purchases in store. A store assistant using a connected tablet or handheld device can offer to purchase an item for a customer via the retailer’s online portal. By being able to accurately monitor, via the Internet of Things, where every item of stock in the retailer’s inventory is located staff can quickly identify the nearest product and process payment on behalf of the customer. This may be necessary if the required item is out of stock in that particular store. The product can be delivered directly to the customer’s home address or transferred from a nearby store for the customer to collect.

Assisted purchasing and mobile point of sale on the shop floor also ensures customers make their purchases there and then, taking away the opportunity for the customer to abandon their purchase before they reach the store check-out.

The Internet of Things even extends to innovations such as smart hangers, where store workers can identify the location of every item of stock on display, bringing added security benefits as well as customer convenience. Retailers can then monitor, in real time, which display items are running low and which merchandising displays are more popular than others in various locations around a store. All of this supports retail businesses in becoming smarter when planning stores, identifying buying trends and the effects of visual merchandising.

Behind the Scenes in Retail

The innovations provided by the Internet of Things are not limited to the in-store customer experience. Currently some of the larger developments in retail technology are being seen in fleet management, logistics and supply chain areas of retail. Here, existing technologies such as RFID tracking and barcodes are being built upon using the Internet of Things. Accurately tracking items throughout the supply chain greatly improves efficiency and allows retailers to become more reactive in terms of stocking popular items when and where they are needed most.

Thanks to the IoT enabled devices, retailers are able to plan their supply chains with more accuracy, leading to leaner inventories and less stock shrinkage. In addition, orders can be shipped quicker, with many customers now expecting same day collection and the frustration of out of stock items can be reduced with smarter supply chains.

What Next for the Internet of Things and Retail?

By 2020 the number of IoT connected units is expected to grow to 26 billion. To put this into context by the same date the number of PCs and smartphones in use is forecast to be 7.3 billion units.

This huge expansion of the Internet of Things concept will lead to almost limitless innovations in most areas of business and industry. In the retail world these potential innovations have been identified in a recent article by Margot Myers of the Platt Retail Institute and are as follows;

• Customer access to information will be unlimited.
• Big Data will provide retailers with unlimited amounts of information about customers.
• Certain classes of merchandise will become less standardized and more customized to fit a specific customer’s desires.
• The concept of pricing will change as retailers respond to supply and demand factors as well as customer-desired customization.
• Products themselves will directly communicate with the customer, as merchandise on the shelf will be more interactive with the shopper.
• The Internet of Things will lead retailers to connect the dots and use this information for the benefit of the customer.
• Technologies that allow specific customers to be identified will be adopted and used actively.

The Internet of Things will continue to evolve and each segment of the retail industry will see its own separate developments. Retailers will continue to focus on offering an ever improving, omnichannel customer experience, with smarter supply planning and a greater understanding of their customer’s likes, habits and expectations.

To view Varlink’s range of retail and Point of Sale devices please click here.


We are a specialist, value added distributor of mobile computing and data capture products. Underpinning all that we do is an understanding that our customers deserve outstandingly executed basic distribution services.

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