I’m not sure how to feel about Black Friday. On the one hand, the discounts can be quite spectacular. On the other, the rush to bag a bargain can turn otherwise reasonable human beings into fearless denizens of the underworld, clawing their way towards would-be purchases with fierce abandon.
It’s a scary time to be a shopper. But, love it or hate it, most people would agree that surviving Black Friday is all about efficiency. You want to get in and out as quickly as possible, preferably finding your ideal product within mere moments, and jumping to the head of the queue for good measure.
Smart retailers are cottoning on to this and doing their best to take the pain out of the experience. Here, as in so many other things, IBM IoT for Retail can help bring a little digital flair to the humble physical store.
Transforming customer engagement with the IoT
You’d think that the crowds would put people off, but surprisingly, 85% of consumers still prefer to do their shopping in the physical realm than online. It’s something about being able to actually see and touch the thing you’re buying.
That said, consumer expectations of the in-store shopping experience are changing. They expect some digital integration with the physical world, and this is where the concept of the ‘connected store’ can be so transformative.
A mobile shopping companion, for instance, can help shoppers locate specific items in store with their mobile phones:
By using connected sensors to ‘listen’ to their stores, retail operators can better measure the store’s performance and understand how shoppers are using it. This might involve:
- Collecting data on peak usage depending on time of day
- Shopper insights to understand which products appeal to whom
- Smart pricing that can be remotely updated to reflect promotions
- An agile approach to inventory management to meet changing demand
Essentially, it’s about doing traditional things like product differentiation, pricing, signage, stock management and the checkout process better, faster, and more efficiently.
Two very different experiences
Let’s compare two scenarios. In the first, a customer enters a traditional brick-and-mortar store to buy a laptop. She’s done her research and has some brands in mind. The store is enormous and electrical goods are nowhere to be seen. She looks around for a clerk to guide her, but the store, overwhelmed with shoppers, has no staff to spare. Eventually she finds the right product, heads on over to the till and spends 45 minutes in line to pay for it.
Now let’s look at the same shopper’s experience in a connected store. She’s already browsed for laptops using the store app, so when she enters the store, she receives an alert with promotional offers relating to the products she’s interested in. Not able to see the electronics section, she uses an on-call mobile shopping companion like the one in the video, to guide her to the product’s exact location. She scans the product’s smart barcode with her phone. As she leaves the store, near-field communication eliminates the checkout process by automatically charging her preferred payment method. No muss, no fuss.
Behind the scenes: an agile approach to store management
So much for the customer view, but a lot goes on behind the scenes too. Having a connected store means store operators and managers have an easier time giving customers what they want, when they want it, and ensuring all the logistics come together seamlessly. This is because a connected store collects information about every facet of the shopping experience, including:
- The supply chain (product tracking and traceability)
- Product data (pricing, availability, special offers)
- Employee data (staff availability)
- Customer data (in-store behavior, gesture recognition, purchasing history and preferences)
- In-store data from connected devices (store temperature, equipment health, energy use)
By combining historical store data with real-time insights from connected devices, store managers can build a more complete picture of how their stores can best serve their customers. They can anticipate busy periods, and allocate staff accordingly. They can also manage stock fluctuation by adapting their orders according to product popularity or special offers.
Honeywell BuildingSense, powered by IBM
IBM and Honeywell have built a solution for connected stores, to help store managers collect and understand data in this way. Known as Honeywell BuildingSense, powered by IBM, the solution combines expertise in building automation and software analytics with the Watson IoT Platform, cognitive APIs and facilities management capabilities.
The Watson IoT Connected Location Hub collects and analyses store data, then converts its findings into user-friendly insights via apps and dashboards. IBM’s Regional and Store Advisors (RAM/SAM) gives store personnel insights direct to their mobile devices. There they can see top priorities like queue back-up, staff shortages, and urgent equipment maintenance needs.
The staff can also see longer-term store trends, goals for the future and forthcoming events (like the beginning of a new school term) that might affect shopper spending. All this makes for an agile, proactive approach – and an easier time of it for shoppers.
So there you have it – Black Friday made bearable with a little help from the IoT. If you’d like to learn more about IBM’s IoT for Retail solutions, you might be interested in these resources:
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