Holiday Shopping and the Internet of Things for Small Business Retail

A sensible approach for smaller retailers to get started with today’s emerging retail technologies

Internet of ThingsThe retail future that we glimpsed in the Tom Cruise movie Minority Report is starting to emerge. Shopper recognition technology delivering personalized video messages is on the way. And major retailers are rolling out some cool new retail innovations for this year’s holiday shopping season.

The Internet of Things (IOT), the technology behind most of the innovations, will add intelligence to endcaps, displays, shopping carts, vending machines, checkouts and packaging. All of it will connect via the Internet to hungry databases allowing retailers to collect big data and personalize the shopping experience for millions of shoppers.

Smaller retailers may be wondering if they will be left behind as the retail transformation accelerates. Knowing a good place to start can reduce the worry. First, let’s see what’s available or coming soon.

Look for these IoT technologies from the major retail technology players this holiday shopping season. Some are still concepts and some have been around for a while:

  • Emotion Detection – Discern shoppers’ emotions, level of interest and intent to purchase.
  • Memory Mirror – Recognize customers to personalize the shopping experience.
  • Intelligent Coffee Bar – Dispensing the right product mix using brand promotion data.
  • Smart Media Carts – Dispense floor plans, directions, specials, product information, etc. from displays on carts to streamline the shopper’s journey through the store.
  • Intelligent Vending – Wow shoppers with video, sensory stimulation, touch screens and engaging interactions to make buying a Coke a memorable experience.
  • Customization Apps – Interactive product selection aid on your device
  • RFID Solutions – Wide-area monitoring to track product locations
  • Digital Security Surveillance – Big brother on aisle six
  • Beacons – Wirelessly sense and transmit data to nearby mobile devices to personalize the in-store experience
  • Mobile POS – Meet customers in the aisle and complete the purchase on-the-spot without interruption.
  • Digital Signage – Highlight new products and specials, entertain with branded messages, collect data, analyze and adjust strategy all from headquarters.

Mobile Purchases

Mobile devices will play a huge role in the IoT both for gathering and dispensing shopping data. Industry promoters quote 48% growth, making it sound like retailers must get on board now or be left behind. They predict that 31% of online purchases will be mobile this Thanksgiving.

Looking a little closer, we see that the overwhelming majority of U.S. retail sales, (92%) according to Forrester, still happen offline. Doing the math, only 2.5% of all purchases are mobile. Retailers have got time to catch this bus.

The reasons shoppers give for still shopping in the stores vs. online make sense. They want to see or feel products in person, obtain the items right away, protect privacy, save on shipping or have easier returns, according to a survey from Ripen eCommerce.

Sorting it Out

The Internet of Things floats on a sea of hype. Forecasters foresee a vast economic impact, as much as $6.2 trillion annually, by 2025. With the holiday shopping season beginning, the question on every retailer’s mind is, “Which options and technologies will resonate with shoppers and make a meaningful difference?”

The major retailers are experimenting, and time will float successful approaches to the top. With the flood of projections and differing visions of retail’s future, where does a small business get up to speed with the IoT or even find the on-ramp?

The IoT is Now

Microsoft recommends a pragmatic approach to the Internet of Things, encouraging businesses to focus on what’s here today. Here’s some marketing speak on how to participate in the IoT from Microsoft’s IoT website:

“The Internet of Things is not a futuristic, aspirational technology trend. It’s here today in the devices, sensors, cloud infrastructure, and data and business intelligence tools you are already using. Rather than thinking about the Internet of Things in terms of everything–such as billions of devices and sensors–focus on what matters most to you. Instead of thinking about the massive amount of data being produced, think about how one piece of data can provide value to your business.”

This sounds like good advice. But what specific technologies can a small retailer implement now to best meet the needs of their customers? What shoppers say they want is a consistent shopping experience, a deal, online research, flexible shipping and return policies, convenience and favorable reviews.

Half of the time, the buying journey begins online and involves multiple devices, but 92% of the time ends up in the store. That’s comforting for small businesses with limited technical resources.

An important concept that the experts agree on is that it’s about making the purchasing journey fit the buyer, about personalizing the buying experience. So how does a retailer start to personalize?

Where to start

Since half of shoppers start their research online, a website is essential. Today’s site-building applications include eCommerce features and automatically create a mobile version of the site. So there is no reason not to have at least a basic site where a customer can complete a purchase.

The next best thing that you can do is to add Wi-Fi to make your store mobile friendly. Then shoppers will feel connected as they craft their own personalized shopping experience. According to Internet Retailer, Smartphone users in stores compare prices, read reviews and do much more to “inform their buying decisions, decisions that may very well lead to making a purchase in stores.”

Instead of you pushing ads on them as they walk the aisles they can check with their friends, compare what you have to offer to online choices and learn enough to make a decision in the store. The shoppers themselves function like a shopping app. If you have the right item, a deal, and a good return policy, you’ll get the sale.

What to do after adding a website and Wi-Fi? Talk to your customers and ask them what they expect from you. It’s the best research that you can do.

“Today’s shoppers expect to see modern technology in stores,” stated Jennifer Mazzanti, President eMazzanti Technologies. “Small business retailers with mobile POS, wireless networks or other appropriate customer-facing innovations will enjoy an advantage.”

How to add a guest Wi-Fi network to your store

A wireless guest network is easy to install. But don’t make the mistake of putting in consumer-grade equipment. If security, reliability and speed are lacking, shoppers will know, complain and tell their friends. Worse than that, your customer’s personal information could be compromised. Get advice from a qualified IT security consultant.

In addition to satisfying the shopping requirements of mobile-empowered customers, your employees will appreciate the ability to assist shoppers with online information from your website or elsewhere.

eMazzanti Technologies has installed and maintains wireless networks for hundreds of retail stores. With engineers trained on the latest network and mobile technologies you can expect a solution that will provide the essentials you need to start profiting from the Internet of Things.



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