Retail’s IoT Revolution is Here To Stay
Success stories can be found today in big box and boutique shops, fast casual restaurants, grocery stores, pharmacies, and more. The adoption of low-power wireless solutions is gaining momentum as retail executives are understanding that delaying technology decisions leaves a company vulnerable to being left behind by both consumers and competitors.
The Rigado team was busy over the past two weeks at CES, Microsoft’s IoT in Action, and NRF – Retail’s Big Show. With our takeaways from those shows in hand, plus years of working in the field, let’s take a look at factors that are driving the retail revolution, how Bluetooth fits into the story, and considerations for retail technology solution providers and system integrators looking to take advantage of the still-early market.
IoT-Powered Solutions Are Driving Retail Innovation
Retail executives are interested in leveraging IoT solutions to impact their bottom line through cost savings, adding new revenue streams, and increasing customer retention and loyalty. Solutions powered by IoT devices offer many paths to those outcomes, including by supporting:
- Increased operations efficiency – in both back-of-house and front-of-house environments. Brick-and-mortar retailers are competing with online brands positioned to offer lower prices and fast (or same-day) shipping. IoT solutions and resulting insights help ensure that inventory is at the right place, at the right time, while reliably enabling enhanced customer offerings like curbside pickup and ship-from-store.
- Workforce optimization – through a data-backed understanding of day-to-day in-store and staff operations, and task automation, where relevant. The goal here is not to replace staff, but to allow staff to focus on tasks that have a high impact on customer satisfaction. Staff scheduling needs can then be better predicted to align with store operations requirements.
- Increased customer engagement and satisfaction – through new, frictionless ML / AI / IoT-powered experiences. Personalized offerings have been critical to the success of online shopping, and retailers are now recognizing the positive revenue impacts of bringing those experiences to the physical store.
- Heightened facility observability and security – through increased understanding and analysis of asset location and employee and customer behavior and in-store traffic patterns. Security and loss prevention initiatives benefit from beacon-based solutions leveraging employee tags and door and motion sensors – often deployed in these use cases to replace more expensive, legacy RFID systems that don’t support real-time visibility.
The Role of Bluetooth in Retail IoT Use Cases
Ultimately, Bluetooth will be one of a variety of wireless protocols employed in the Smart Store. As a technology provider for retail environments it’s important to maintain a balance between supporting the technologies and use cases of today and being prepared for those of tomorrow – including consideration of what offering updates those will necessitate.
IoT technologies that will support retail solutions like those mentioned above include Bluetooth, ultra-wideband (UWB), low power wide area network (LPWAN), and LTE/5G. Each protocol has its own best-suited use cases, and often two or more of these technologies will be deployed complementarily in an end-to-end solution.
Bluetooth is particularly well-suited to these five IoT use cases in retail environments:
- Warehouse and in-store inventory management
Traditional supply chains can be optimized alongside supporting new, omnichannel fulfillment needs that are critical for retailers to maintaining a competitive advantage in today’s market. Bluetooth tags, beacons and gateways provide real-time asset location and status monitoring and analytics capabilities at any scale.
- In-store customer wayfinding and behavior analysis
Bluetooth beacons and sensors monitor in-store traffic and shopping patterns for a better understanding of store layout effectiveness as well as queuing patterns and wait times. A more efficient, personalized experience can be offered throughout the customer journey through digital wayfinding and integration with mobile device applications.
- Workforce optimization and automation
The same Bluetooth beacons and sensors that monitor in-store behavior can be leveraged to predict staffing level needs based on an improved understanding of peak store and department traffic times. And, manual tasks such as checking and recording temperatures, stock levels, and more are automated for documentation requirements and increased records accuracy.
- Real-time condition monitoring of goods
Retail environments often include temperature-sensitive goods. Bluetooth sensors continually monitor and report on refrigerated storage temperatures to prevent losses due to spoilage. Pharmacies transport and store vaccines and medicines with efficacies that depend on stringent temperature thresholds. When combined with automated notifications and alerting, the need for manual temperature checks is removed, and staff need only respond to threshold breaches. (Onset Case Study)
- Indoor and curbside automated order delivery
Fast casual restaurants and grocery stores are two examples of retailers whose offerings now regularly include indoor or curbside order pickup in support of an enhanced customer experience. Bluetooth beacons and gateways combine to eliminate conventional wait times by recognizing when and where the customer, employee, or delivery driver is ready for order delivery. (Radius Networks Case Study)
The potential benefits of implementing an IoT solution in a retail environment are clear – and have already been embraced by retailers around the world. Bluetooth has the advantage of being a recognized and trusted technology for collecting physical and environmental data for real-time delivery to and integration with cloud and on-premise enterprise applications.
Challenges Facing Retailers and Solution Providers
Seamlessly integrating new technologies with legacy systems is a top concern for retail executives who are responsible for ensuring that technology operations continue without impacting system uptime or customer satisfaction. For that reason, it’s critical for solution providers to thoroughly understand the journey and management of the IoT data; the device-to-gateway-to-application protocol translations and integrations. Partnering with reputable solution vendors is key to gaining this understanding in a complete and time-sensitive manner.
Another challenge facing retail executives that can delay the purchasing decision is an understanding of total solution ROI. When a solid business case for implementing IoT is formed the total cost of the infrastructure should support a rapid ROI. Here, Bluetooth-based hardware has the advantage of being cost-effective. Rapid adoption of the technology has resulted in a competitive and robust low-cost device market. Further, IoT products and applications are increasingly being offered as-a-service, helping to offset the upfront cost of a fully scaled IoT deployment.
On the technology solution provider / integrator side, our work has informed our perspective on issues keeping IoT teams up at night. Most commonly we see the need for:
- A reliable low-power wireless technology that can be integrated seamlessly with existing systems and applications. Bluetooth answers this need, and can be further extended through integration with technologies that support solution requirements like WAN connectivity.
- A frictionless total solution experience for the end user; from hardware installation to software implementation to ongoing support. Here, a vetted and trusted partner/vendor ecosystem is crucial. Considerations include who will provide on-site installation and long-term support (including hardware upgrading), ownership of infrastructure reliability monitoring, and key customer contacts in case of system uptime issues.
- A software and data analytics platform that provides insight and action-oriented information over data and dashboards. Rigado partners with industry leading IoT platform and analytics software providers like Azure, AWS, and Losant to offer end-to-end solution bundles that are deployment ready.
- A technology partner that understands the challenges unique to retail environments. There are many factors that go into a successful IoT solution, and each market offers its own challenges and opportunities. An experienced and knowledgable partner is invaluable to overcoming these challenges and capitalizing on the IoT opportunity.
The opportunity in retail for technology solution providers is massive and growing – but investment in technologies and vendor relationships has to be right, or you risk wasting months of development time, effort, and money. It truly takes a village (or, an ecosystem) to raise an IoT solution from pilot through scaled production.
As an ultra-reliable, cost-effective and popular low-power wireless protocol, Bluetooth is well-positioned to maintain a leading role in powering Retail IoT in 2020 and beyond.
Our team has the right experience to support successful and rapid deployments of enterprise-grade, commercial-scale IoT in retail environments. If you’re currently working on a Retail IoT initiative, we’d love to talk and share what we’ve learned – and see if we can help. Connect with our team today.
The future of retail is tracking and IoT (Stacey on IoT)
Read more about Commercial IoT here