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Looking into the crystal ball of retail: What does IoT have in store for 2017?

2016 has been an interesting year for technology: accusations of cybersecurity hacks in US elections, banks employing online smartbots to deal with customer enquiries, the self-driving car tested for the first time on UK soil in Milton Keynes and the introduction of drone deliveries. One technological advance that has largely escaped the headlines is the growing influence of Internet of Things into the mainstream conscience. We’ve already seen IoT bring connected devices into the home: your thermostat can talk to your lightbulbs, your phone can control your heating even though you’re ten miles away, and the list goes on. Yet, there is one huge sector that IoT is on the cusp of transforming, and that is retail. 

The way that it can do this is through the idea of Programmatic Commerce, which involves internet-enabled devices making smart purchasing decisions based on owners’ predefined preferences, looks set to take the consumer market by storm. A majority of consumers (57 per cent)  will be ready within two years to use a system that orders items automatically, showing a shifting attitude towards consumer buying habits and an acceptance that IoT is no longer a gimmick, but could very much be the future sooner than most anticipated.   

Here are a few areas where we would expect Programmatic Commerce to thrive in 2017:

Food shopping 

Remember the times when you’ve boiled the kettle, only to open the fridge door to find that there’s no milk left? Now imagine a fridge that automatically orders this milk when supplies are running low, so you don’t have to make that frustrating trip down to the shops. Or how about when you’ve run out of coffee beans? A smart coffee machine will simply re-order your favourite product. By simply entering price limits, preferred brands and other options into the system on initial set-up, you’ll never have to remember to put them into your shopping basket. 

We’ve already seen semi-automation make a splash in the market, with the launch of Amazon Dash; by simply tapping the branded button, your chosen product arrives on the next day. For many consumers however, this is seen as an experiment, not a practical, problem-solving device – how many buttons can one family use? Programmatic Commerce (full automation) is simply the next step, particularly as we get used to sharing this kind of lifestyle data. The fact that 55 per cent of online FMCG shoppers use the same shopping list from one purchase to the next points to the powerful potential for programmatic purchasing. 


Another benefit of Programmatic Commerce is that it could work very well for new parents. The reality is that they don’t have a lot of time; they crave ease, convenience and help. By fusing hardware capable of capturing information, data about the parents and baby, and the ability to automatically replenish, Programmatic Commerce can help make parents’ lives easier. 

One of the examples could be changing mats; popular retailers such as Pampers could offer customers who sign up to their services a changing mat with the ability to detect the weight of the baby as it grows. The hardware could then be linked to an online profile with one of the suppliers, tracking the baby’s weight and giving insights into its size and therefore the nappies. As the baby grows, parents would receive a notification saying that they might want to consider increasing the size of the nappies and if they’d consequently like to amend their preferences. 

Nappy stock replenishment could also become fully automated. Through tagging specific products and introducing smart, connected hardware such as nappy storage boxes or dispensers, stock of these items can be tracked and ordered automatically when supplies are dwindling. Ultimately, this is a time saver for parents, and one less pressure they don’t have to deal with.


Moving across into the fashion world, Programmatic Commerce could automatically send you clothes you like based on your personal preference. To use one example of automated purchasing in action: it’s November time and the party season is on the horizon. You need to look your best but just don’t have the time to find that show-stopping outfit. But don’t worry. Your favourite online retailer knows all about you – your size, the items you order, the items you return and when you normally shop. Using this data, it’s predicted your annual need for a Christmas frock, selecting the perfect mix of style, price and fabric quickly from across its range. In fact, it can select a range of outfits for you. It can send these out to you without you asking to try one, and those you don’t choose can be returned free of charge. It’s like your own automated, digital shopping assistant.

Programmatic Commerce can have other fashion benefits too: one of those may be the ability to remind shoppers if they’re running out of key wardrobe staples. One example could be a first date night and you’ve forgotten to buy some tights, as all existing ones have ladders in them. However, based on repurchasing patterns and an estimation of the average life cycle of a shopper’s tights, your favourite online retailer has automatically re-ordered some new ones; your future happiness need not be derailed by a wardrobe malfunction.  

A connected (and very near) future

As the technology train speeds into 2017, we expect retailers to start adopting some kind of automated purchasing system. With consumers using digital channels to shop on average nine times a week, it comes as no surprise that the automated retail revolution will soon be upon us. Whether it’s food or fashion, Programmatic Commmerce should have a big part to play in the near and far future. While consumers are ready to embrace automation, it is now a question of whether retailers will meet that demand and satiate the desire of shoppers. The future looks bright and programmatic.

Hugh Fletcher, Digital Marketing Consultant,  Digital Marketing Consultant,  Salmon
Image source: Shutterstock/everything possible

Hugh Fletcher
Hugh Fletcher is a Digital Marketing Consultant at global ecommerce consultancy Salmon, with a specialism in formulating new “digital ready” visions for businesses.