Retailers are becoming more and more aware of the importance of integrating AI technologies, machine learning and automation processes to scale new peaks when it comes to attracting customers, managing stock and controlling the supply chain. Harmonising very different technologies in order to provide more responsible and real-time experiences for customers are among retailers' main aspirations for the future.
Internet of Things (IoT) technologies are revolutionising the retail industry, providing state-of-the-art advances and new business opportunities in customer experiences through the supply chain, in terms of both the online space and ecommerce and in physical stores, not to mention other channels such as the cloud, mobility and social networks.
Experts in the segment of sales in physical stores recognise the advantages that come from installing sensors on the shelves in their establishments to provide them with real-time information on the stock situation and when it is necessary to replenish the shelves. More and more retailers and e-traders are opting for the use of IoT technologies based on RFID sensors that monitor products across the supply chain, combined with systems that send personalised digital coupons to store managers every time they log on to the system and sensors that monitor the quality of perishable goods.
Machine learning and artificial intelligence to improve business management
From the perspective of the broad spectrum of companies that make up the traditional retail sector such as specialist shops, large department stores, supermarkets, shopping centres, fashion boutiques, electronics shops, hardware stores and retail chains, the ‘Zebra 2017 Retail Vision Study' highlights the fact that by 2021 some 70% of retailers will have invested in the IoT; 68% of them say they will adopt machine learning technologies or cognitive platforms, while 57% contend they will go for process automation.
Entrusting the Internet of Things to achieve greater visibility in supply chain operations, detailed and real-time inventory management and optimising product selections based on customer preferences are the primary objectives of sensor-based technologies, big data, the cloud and analytics.
Predictive technologies with machine learning functions are used to prevent supply restrictions, to better channel and personalise the customer experience, and to optimise inventory management. Meanwhile, automation processes encompass a huge variety of applications in the retail sector, providing higher levels of customer service while at the same time performing more effective and thorough product management thanks to the automation of certain processes.
Testbeds of the Internet of Things for the retail sector at the IoT Solutions World Congress
The leading annual event for Internet of Things technologies for industrial use is the IoT Solutions World Congress (IoTSWC), which in just two editions has established itself as the global benchmark for both development companies and the different vertical solutions in which the IoT is present. The 2016 edition hosted an innovative testbed developed jointly by NEC and Microsoft which analyses buyers' behaviour in stores by means of sensors and videos, transforming this analysis into specific data that provide valuable information on the customer experience as well as improving the efficiency of the business and hence its sales.
Richard Soley, the executive director of the Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC) - the organisation that coordinates and oversees all the testbeds set up at the IoT Solutions World Congress - recognised the efficacy and applicability of the IoT testbed developed by NEC and Microsoft, along with their extensive ecosystem of partners when it comes to integrating edge sensors, gateways, communication devices with users and sensor and video analytics engines to generate valuable data for the retail sector. ‘The testbeds represent the most accurate and detailed approach to the focus and activity of the Industrial Internet Consortium and its members. In them you can see how new technologies are developed and new products, services, applications and processes are presented, which are subjected to rigorous tests in order to test their application, usability and viability before they go on the market,' says Soley.
Another leading organisation in the development of IoT platforms for the retail industry, Vodafone, presented some innovative developments on its stand at IoTSWC 2016, in a sector in which the organisation is making a firm commitment to investing in R&D&I in order to improve the customer experience. Fernando López, the IoT business development manager at Vodafone, demonstrated the company's advances with an innovative platform that supports the generation of fragrances through IoT to attract buyers. ‘Our developments are based on evidence taken from various studies which show that three out of every four visitors to stores and shopping centres go to certain establishments because they are attracted by a particular fragrance. For this reason, we have developed a solution with Aromas Fenpal that remotely triggers the fragrance and controls its intensity,' said Lopez at the IoTSWC last year.
The third edition of the IoTSWC, which takes place on 3-5 October 2017 in Barcelona, is set to witness significant growth. The leading global event for the IIoT will bring together more than 220 companies and 250 exhibitors to showcase and discuss the latest products and applications in this disruptive technology, which is already increasing production through automated processes and will change the business models of many industries. With the support of the leading international associations in the sector - the Industrial Internet Consortium, Industrie 4.0, and the Industrial Valuechain Initiative - this year's event will occupy two halls of Fira de Barcelona's Gran Via exhibition centre instead of just one as in 2016, and exhibitor numbers are expected to increase by almost 30%. This is the biggest event of its kind and the only one to combine a trade fair area, knowledge transfer, test benches and professional networking at the highest level.
Furthermore, in October 2017, Fira de Barcelona will become one of the biggest international platforms for the industry with the organisation of Barcelona Industry Week. The event will include the IoTSWC along with the trade fairs Expoquimia, Eurosurfas, Equiplast and In(3D)ustry From Needs to Solutions, the World Congress of Chemical Engineering, the World Chemical Summit and Smart Chemistry, Smart Future, all of them taking place in the Gran Via venue.