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No Hassle, No Queues: How The Internet of Things Can Transform The Way You Shop

01/03/2016 8:09 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST
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Interactive mirror that allows the person standing in front of it to see a simulated view of how the clothes they wish to buy would look when they wear them without trying the clothes on, Internet of Things lab, Tecnalia Research

The Internet of Things (IoT) is well on its way to becoming a household name. A global network that connects all things: smart phones, smart devices, sensors, appliances, vehicles, wearable devices and much more. By the year 2020, IoT is expected to connect more than 30 billion things of various forms and functions. Fuelled by the rapid adoption of smartphones and devices by consumers, and an ever-increasing demand for services at their fingertips, the digital revolution is well underway.

Digitisation is revolutionising the way people live their lives. More and more aspects of our daily life are conducted in the digital world, whether it is financial, travel, shopping or entertainment. Each of these market segments is producing disruptive products and services, with a clear focus on customer experience - where customers have offerings personalised to their lifestyle and preferences specifically, rather than having to choose from a predetermined and mass-produced range.

Even passers-by outside the storefront can be alerted about offers personalised specifically for them...

The retail industry has seen several waves of digital disruption with the launch of e-commerce more than two decades ago, starting with the B2B model. Today, online shopping caters directly to consumers. We enjoy the convenience of being able to browse myriad products that may not all be stocked in a brick-and-mortar store, evaluate and decide at leisure, and have it delivered to our doorstep with the touch of a button.

However, for most humans, shopping isn't just functional - it is a social experience. We want to handle and experience the product before we buy it, and in the company of other shoppers. So while online commerce has certainly grabbed market share away from brick-and-mortar stores, it is also pouring new life into physical retail. Retailers are realising that Omni-channel retailing is the key -- allowing shoppers access to a combination of channels to enhance their shopping experience, so they get the best of both online and real life.

Beacon technology is the disruptive technology that will bring about this Omni-channel customer experience. It uses tiny battery-powered low energy Bluetooth devices that are installed across all sections of a store and even outside in the general shopping area. These devices communicate with each other and with apps on passing mobile devices. This communication leads to a richer in-store experience by informing passing shoppers about offers and sales personalised to their preferences. It can do this, for example, by using a customer's shopping list on mobile applications like Mobmerry to inform them about appropriate deals in the vicinity. Even passers-by outside the storefront can be alerted about offers personalised specifically for them, enticing them into the store and converting them into customers.

Beacon technology allows store employees to provide better and faster service... for example, they may be alerted that a customer looking for a specific item is headed their way...

The beacons track shopping patterns and movements, and retailers can use analytics solutions on this collected data to better understand their customers, design better stores and displays, and craft a better shopping experience for them. This experience also extends to a more streamlined in-store experience as well. Beacon technology allows store employees to provide better and faster service based on advanced analytics; for example, they may be alerted that a customer looking for a specific item is headed their way, giving them time to pull it out and have it ready. Checkouts can also be sped up if the customer has set up payment information in their mobile device. The beacons can use this to complete the purchase without the customer ever having to stand in line! Or the customer can choose to have the store deliver the item with just a few clicks so they can continue shopping without being weighed down by shopping bags.

These are just a few of the immediate applications that hold exciting potential for retailers to draw in and retain customers by providing an outstanding and personalised experience. Today's digital world demands that the traditional retail model be revamped to cater to customers who conduct most of their interactions online and electronically. Beacon technology allows retailers to keep customers returning to their stores while enjoying the conveniences of digital services to enhance the shopping experience.

For retailers to be able to achieve the promise of beacon technology in India depends on how well the Digital India program achieves its stated goals.

For retailers to be able to achieve the promise of beacon technology in India depends on how well the Digital India program achieves its stated goals. The program holds exciting potential for all citizens as it plans to deliver a host of essential services to their fingertips. It plans for a broadband network that will span the country, and it is this network that will form the backbone of the IoT on which all the billions of "things" can talk and interact, to articulate and achieve the promise of an automated, intelligent, bespoke customer experience.

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