Retailers are beginning to explore the potential of Internet of Things (IoT) applications, which is creating new opportunities for ISVs. In a vast retail IoT market, however, you may need some direction to see precisely where the most promising opportunities lie.
DevPro Journal asked Luis Artiz, Group Product Manager for Epson’s North America point-of-sale (POS) solutions group, to offer his advice on creating in-demand solutions for the retail industry.
Look at the Big Picture
Artiz says there are numerous IoT solutions available today — motion detectors, pressure sensors, edge processing modules, communications protocols, IFTTT (if this, then that) applications, etc.
But what’s missing are retail IoT solutions that tie them all together. “ISVs need to look at the big picture. There has to be a master plan of what the store wants to do,” says Artiz. “The important thing is not to have an IoT initiative. It should be a customer experience initiative or an efficiency initiative. Stores don’t want an IoT science project that’s intrusive and not thought out. Make the store’s business goal your guiding principle.”
Artiz comments, “There hasn’t yet been mass (retail IoT) adoption because it’s not changing lives in ways that are indispensable.”
Predict and Prescribe
Artiz says successful ISVs can make retail IoT solutions indispensable with the decision-making capabilities of IoT. For example:
- Weight sensors on shelves or pegs can detect when stock levels have diminished and automatically place an order with the distributor to refill it. An employee won’t have to use a scanner to take inventory and decide whether it’s time to order.
- To enhance the customer experience of that shopper who walked by the freezer case triggering the lights, your solution could predict complementary items the shopper would want to see, turning lights at that display or triggering a video.
- Temperature sensors can detect the outside temperature and temperature of window glass and predict the right moment to turn on the AC unit, so shoppers in your store stay comfortable while minimizing energy costs.
Busy retailers are also looking for retail IoT solutions with prescriptive analytics that can make recommendations as well as share data:
- Add value to people counters by granularly calculating revenue/square foot and making recommendations for moving merchandise from over-utilized areas to under-utilized areas.
- Use data from security cameras integrated with the POS system to record a transaction including activity when the cash drawer opens. The solution could alert managers if the amount of cash taken in is less than anticipated for items that pass through the POS — and pinpoint the source of shrinkage to a specific cashier or customer.
Retail IoT solutions that free managers and staff to focus their time on other areas of the business, especially in a time of growing competition for customer loyalty, can have tremendous value to your retail customers. “To me, this is where IoT needs to be,” says Artiz. “If ISVs can figure out how to automate more and more of a store’s operations and decision-making, that would be a home run.”
Smartphones as IoT Devices
Artiz says not to overlook the fact that customers’ smartphones can be important “things” in a connected Internet of Things environment. With newer phones, customers can turn off Wi-Fi, but the phone’s locator will remain on. This can provide a store with data on shopper behaviors and, if the shopper is a part of the store’s loyalty program, the retailer can match those behaviors with that specific customer to target marketing and communications.
The smartphone can also be the key to cashier-less payments. The shopper could use a smartphone with stored payment data to purchase an item tagged with an RFID chip. Another application could involve monitoring location via smartphone to alert managers to behaviors — such as lingering in a low traffic area then quickly trying to exit the store — that could suggest shoplifting.
Retailers can also communicate with shoppers through their smartphones, but Artiz warns to be careful how much you touch the customer. “If messages constantly pop up, they’ll turn them off. Stores need to be careful,” he comments.
Advice for ISVs New to Retail IoT
Artiz encourages ISVs with retail IoT ideas to develop them: “Don’t be afraid to fail.” He says for an investment of a few hundred dollars, you can develop a test solution. He advises working with “friendlies”: businesses that you can consider as development partners that are willing to try your new solutions and projects. This will allow you to see your concept at work and provide perspective on how it contributes to the retailer’s overall business goals. “Don’t think about what the sensor is doing, but the action that it’s going to trigger. Focus on better transactions, greater efficiency — then build from that,” he advises.
“If anyone is going to lead IoT, it will be the ISV,” Artiz comments. “ISVs who get it and can package value will knock it out of the park.”