How retailers are optimizing your Black Friday experience

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.

Learn more

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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The Internet of Life and Kerlink saves Black rhinos via sensor implants in horns

The mainstream media mostly projects IoT in terms of smart home and autonomous vehicles. However, there’s more to the IoT technology then the making devices and machines run better and faster. The Internet of Life, an organization that applies modern technology to improve quality of life for endangered species has implanted LoRaWANTM-equipped sensors into the horns of black rhinos in Tanzania.

The solution will help save the endangered Black rhinos from poachers. The park rangers will use the LoRaWan-based solution for near-real-time monitoring and activity tracking of rhinos and other large mammals. The location data of rhinos is updated a couple of times every hour. The system also shows the location of all the rhinos in the national park.

Placing a location tracker inside the horn of a Rhino

Kerlink and SamTech supported the project implemented in Tanzania. SamTech is a key company behind LoRa technology and offers the technology baked within its chipsets which can then be made part of IoT applications.

They have taken the LoRa® network technology as a foundation to build a private network infrastructure

Usually, the IoT solutions deployed in open and rugged environments need to have long range and low power connectivity. This is where LoRa’s wireless technology offers 15-30 km range of connectivity coupled with low-cost, low-power, and availability of open standards to develop IoT solutions.


Postscapes: Tracking the Internet of Things

Park rangers use IoT in mission to save endangered black rhinos

Park rangers use IoT in mission to save endangered black rhinos

Connected tech company The Internet of Life has teamed up with conservationists the ShadowView Foundation to protect endangered black rhinos with IoT sensors.

The organizations have implanted LoRaWAN-equipped sensors directly into the horns of these animals, giving park rangers the ability to monitor their whereabouts and activities to keep them safe from poachers.

Part of a wider LoRaWAN IoT Smart Parks solution that’s being rolled out in several national parks across Africa, this phase of the operation was conducted in Tanzania.

Rhino Sensor implanted in animal's horn

Rhino Sensor implanted in animal’s horn

Read more: Zebras enlisted in IBM’s IoT-based battle to keep rhinos safe

Actionable data

With the specially designed trackers, park security personnel can keep check on the location of animals within the sanctuary – meaning they always have access to actionable data. The deployment was supported by Semtech and Kerlink.

The LoRaWAN network’s cost-effective, energy-efficient and long-distance connectivity (up to 30 kms) was used in the project, ensuring speed and accuracy.

Kerlink’s geolocation-ready gateway was also combined with Semtech’s geolocation solver,  eliminating the need for GPS systems. The latter consume far more energy.

Read more: London Zoo turns to IoT to tackle global poaching menace

Powerful tech

According to the companies, the systems used in the project allow the trackers to update the rhinos’ location a couple of times per hour. Other technologies would only be able to do this once or twice a day.

This increase of detailed data is sent to an observation room where the tracked items appear on a digital map, giving specialists the ability to keep their eye on animals right around the clock.

To expand the project, ShadowView and The Internet of Life have received support from the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). They’re looking to increase the coverage of the protected area so that all rhinos can be protected.

Other parks are using similar technology to monitor of gate open/closures through solar-powered LoRaWANbased sensors installed on the gates vehicles, tracking the whereabouts of personnel and tourists in high-risk areas.

“The brutal onslaught of poaching of rhino populations across Africa has resulted in fewer than 5,000 black rhinos remaining in the wild, 1,000 of which are the Eastern black rhino subspecies,” said project leader Tim van Dam. “Smart Parks is a new tool in the battle against poaching.”

The Internet of Life develops, deploys and maintains IoT technologies to protect endangered wildlife, including the black rhino and elephant.

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First black rhinos protected by sensor-implants in horns

First black rhinos protected by sensor-implants in horns

The Internet of Life and the ShadowView Foundation have successfully implanted LoRaWAN-equipped sensors directly into the horns of critically endangered black rhinos.

The sensors give park rangers the ability to accurately monitor the whereabouts and activities of the large mammals and keep them safe from poachers.

The operation took place in Tanzania and is part of a LoRaWAN IoT Smart Parks solution that is rolled out in several National Parks throughout Africa. The rhino trackers show the location of the animals within the sanctuary, providing the park’s security personnel with better actionable intelligence. The deployment in Tanzania was supported by Semtech and Kerlink.

Using the LoRaWAN network’s cost-effective, energy-efficient and long-distance connectivity (up to 30 kms), powered by Kerlink Wirnet iBTS Compact 868 MHz, small sensors were directly implanted in the horns the rhinos. Kerlink’s geolocation-ready LoRaWAN gateways combined with Semtech’s geolocation solver eliminate the need for GPS systems in use in some IoT applications that consume far more energy.

The geolocation systems’ longer lifecycle allows Smart Parks trackers to update the rhinos’ location a couple of times per hour instead of the once or twice a day allowed by other systems. The increase of detailed data is transmitted from the sensors within the network to an observation room where the tracked items appear on a digital map.

“The brutal onslaught of poaching of rhino populations across Africa has resulted in fewer than 5,000 black rhinos remaining in the wild”, explains project leader Tim van Dam, “1,000 of which are the Eastern black rhino subspecies. Smart Parks is a new tool in the battle against poaching.”

As a next step, ShadowView and The Internet of Life acquired the support of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) to increase network coverage of the protected area, so that all black rhinos in the area can be protected with Smart Parks.

Other Smart Park applications used by the park management are the monitoring of gate open/closures through solar-powered LoRaWAN-based sensors installed on the gates and solar-powered trackers installed on vehicles to track the whereabouts of personnel and tourists in high-risk areas. ShadowView and The Internet of Life will continue their efforts to improve the Smart Parks solution in several National Parks. New applications, like improved fence monitoring, connected camera-traps and tracking of equipment, like firearms, will be launched in the near future.

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