The smart future of retail

By utilizing the Internet of Things and RFID technology retailers can greatly improve their customer experience.

IoT and Retail Are Merging 

We are entering a very exciting time in retail, as the blurring of the physical and digital worlds paired with the ubiquity of mobile connectivity accelerates the adoption of the Internet of Things (IoT). However, what many don’t realise is that IoT is already impacting and reshaping the enterprise landscape, forming more intelligent enterprises across industries and markets regardless of their size. 

IoT will, and is already beginning to, transform the world around us in a way that will impact all of our daily lives from how we live at home to how we shop. In today’s omnichannel world, product availability is critical and many retailers have in-store inventory visibility challenges. Technological advancements in areas such as machine vision, RFID and data analytics are enabling more advanced business visibility by allowing retail inventory to be “seen” and connected by both staff and customers alike. This improvement is critical given that currently, on average, only 65% of inventory reported through retailers’ inventory management software is correct.   

Imagine what retailers could do to improve the customer experience and optimise efficiency if they know more about customers, staff, assets and merchandise and could see everything going on in a store in real time. Seeing everything going on in a store in real time provides retailers with the information they need to maximise sales; minimise shrink and operational costs; and take the customer experience to a new level. 

Ensuring Future Consumer Demands Are Met  

There has been a power shift in the retail sector. Now, consumers are holding all the cards and are not only becoming increasingly demanding, but their demands are rapidly changing and becoming more complex that retailers are struggling to keep up. In order to stay ahead of the game, retailers need to start predicting customer demands, not waiting for them to be made.   

SmartSense™ for Retail  is Zebra’s first Enterprise Asset Intelligence (EAI) offering to deliver deeper visibility into retail operations by helping retailers execute successful omnichannel fulfillment strategies and reducing missed sales opportunities. 

The solution turns an entire store into a smart store that automatically senses and records the location and movement of virtually everything in a retail store — merchandise, associates, shoppers and assets — and turns that data into easy-to-read actionable intelligence that delivers real competitive advantage. 

In order to successfully meet the demands of consumers, retailers need to ensure their internal processes are at their peak, placing importance on applications including Asset Protection, Inventory Accuracy and Omnichannel fulfilment, especially in reference to in-store pick-up. Understanding this pressing need for real-time visibility, SmartSense allows retailers to achieve a permanent 97% continuous inventory accuracy and take unprecedented control of their inventory – enabling cheaper, simpler store operations that decrease stocking costs and markdowns, increase sales and minimise labour costs. This level of inventory visibility improves omnichannel processes, helping retailers fulfill online orders faster and with greater accuracy, increasing the efficiency of in-store pick-up. The solution also eliminates out-of-stocks and overstocks, prevents lost sales and spots and stops potential theft before items leave the store – placing emphasis on asset protection.   

This is all achieved through the combination of RFID sensors, video feeds and micro-location sensors that automatically collect data on merchandise, assets and people as they move in, through and out of the store; offering detailed information on inventory management, omnichannel enablement, through one platform.   

Track Inventory, Associates, Customers and Mobile Devices 

The solution consists of four sensors: RFID Transition Point, RFID Backroom, Sensing Network Appliance and RFID Point of Sale Lane SmartSensors – which all meet the unique needs of specific areas. The SNAP SmartSensor is loaded with the technology that obtains unprecedented real-time visibility into what is happening on the sales floor. It is able to track the movement of items with the integrated high-performance RFID reader. When inventory moves through receiving and entry/exit points, it’s vital to know which direction it is traveling to understand where it is headed.   

This RFID sensor starts the tracking cycle by detecting and recording the movement of RFID-tagged inventory from the moment it enters the backroom to the moment it leaves. It then logs items passing through POS lanes. With a highly localised antenna technology, a POS Lane sensor can be installed in every lane, without risking interference. Inventory accuracy and visibility into shrink improve. The POS Lane and Transition Point sensors work hand-in-hand to identify items exiting the store that have not traveled through a POS lane, alerting to potential theft — before it happens. 

Using the information from the sensors it is data analytics that is at the heart of the SmartSense Solution. The engine consists of two components. The appliance server correlates volumes of raw RFID, video and mobile device locationing data to provide meaningful events. Then the sophisticated analytics in the SmartSense Business Analytics and Reporting (BAR) automatically turns those events into actionable insights that can improve practically every aspect of everyday store operations. It is no longer necessary to spend hours compiling data to examine past performance to determine how to improve future operations.   

The Future Begins Today 

The technology revolution is now. SmartSense makes businesses as smart and connected as the world we live in - providing the smart, visionary products, software and services that let customers and retailers see the big picture. Through providing instantaneous connectivity that comes from hardware, talking to software, talking to the cloud – Zebra delivers real-time visibility and location solutions.    

Mark Thomson, Director of Retail and Hospitality EMEA, at Zebra Technologies 

Image Credit: Zapp2Photo / Shutterstock

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark has over 24 years of customer focused experience in the industry and works closely with retailers and hospitality providers to help them focus on developing a vision for their retail business that aims to improve customer experience and drive business efficiencies.