As a child, I remember visiting the Home of the Future exhibit at the Epcot Center in the late 1980s, where lights, refrigerators and ovens were being controlled by computers. At the time, I was amazed by that, and thought, “wouldn’t it be cool if you could put a casserole in the oven before going to work, and while sitting at your desk, turn on the oven and dinner is ready when you arrive home.” Little did I know the future would include the Internet of Things (IoT) and make that fantasy a reality.
IoT is growing as more connected devices are released each day. This technology opens up many opportunities for retailers to transform the store employee and consumer journey. If you’ve spent time trying to find that one last item in the grocery store, you know how frustrating that can be. What if shoppers could pull it up on their smart phone or summon an in-store product-finding robot to point them in the right direction. IoT beacons can be used with store planogram data to provide product-finding services.
Or, what about customers who have gone to the store to pick up certain sale items only to find that the shelf is empty on the first day of the sale? IoT smart shelves can alert store team members to low stock and help the team focus on replenishing high churn displays.
Worse yet is leaving the grocery store and then realizing some favorite items were on sale. When shoppers checkout using a loyalty card, shopping habits are tracked by retailers. Retailers can use this data to notify shoppers via a mobile notification when they are near favorite items in the store on sale. Responsive customer service via near field communication will be the new billboards.
The holy grail of IoT for grocery would be automated checkout. Go through the store, pick up items and walk out as the sensors on the items are read upon exit, totaling your bill and automatically paying it using the payment method set up in your mobile wallet.
As part of my job with Getronics, we work with large grocers to uncover IoT opportunities and implement solutions to redefine the consumer’s journey throughout the brick-and-mortar store. Items such as digital menu boards, digital signs and digital price tags can be installed throughout a store allowing for real-time pricing and the ability to offer flash sales at key times of the day, which can even be synched to marketing efforts.
Mobile point of sale (POS) implementations can be used in peripheral store departments such as wine bars, food counters or for click and collect. Mobile POS implementations include consumer and store associate solutions running on iOS or Android devices—as well as solutions running on retailer owned devices—all providing more convenient checkouts for the consumer. There are also solutions for store management, which allow them to spend more time on the sales floor engaging with customers and employees. For example, managers are able to see sales data, monitor POS terminals, send and receive alerts, and perform manager functions on an iOS or Android device.
Grocery retailers typically operate on small margins, and new technology can be challenging to implement. However, not doing so will likely be more costly as customer experience dominates the successful brick-and-mortar store. It is important for retailers to stay ahead of the competition while retaining consumer loyalty. Leaders in the grocery and retail industry must explore how IoT is part of their near- and long-term digital transformation strategy.
Heather James, vice president for software services at Getronics, has been in the retail technology industry for 20 years. James is based out of Greenville, South Carolina, where she leads a software services team, which provides software development, quality assurance, project management, systems integration and support services for retail clients.