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Smart Retail

Smart devices, RFID and the Internet of Things are on the rise in retail, providing new and better ways to meet the needs of connected shoppers.
By Michael Goller
Aug 26, 2018

Smart devices are becoming more ingrained in today's technology-obsessed culture as we embrace the Internet of Things (IoT). In retail, digital fitting rooms, interactive displays, smart shelves and RFID ceiling readers are beginning to move beyond the drawing board as retailers start to acknowledge the benefits of improved customer service and greater revenue from near-100 percent inventory accuracy.

After digitally connecting nearly two billion items of clothing and footwear, we've looked at the most popular IoT strategies that retailers are adopting to more accurately monitor the movements of goods, and to better understand consumer behavior. These include the increasing use of RFID tags fitted on every product or label (particularly in fashion), digital assistants or chatbots to offer assistance on customers' smartphones, and staff members being armed with wearable technologies for up-to-the-minute information regarding exact stock levels, product recommendations and customer preferences.

Many of these latest technologies—such as automated self-checkouts (as used by Amazon Go) or Detego's smart fitting rooms that utilize RFID sensors and interactive screens—are aimed at giving consumers greater ease-of-use and self-service options to improve the overall shopping experience (particularly in stores). This has forged closer ties to some of the more successful techniques spearheaded by online retail, such as personalized product recommendations, article availability checks, links to social media and product reviews, and omnichannel services like click-and-collect.

Connected technology gives real-world objects like merchandise a digital presence that can be closely monitored and analyzed. In order to integrate the customer into this picture, there are numerous technologies available: from simple footfall counters to camera-based systems, Wi-Fi or Bluetooth tracking. The main objective is to get more insights on customers and their behavior, in order to align customer service, adjust the product range and ultimately increase revenues.

Thanks to retailers keeping track of inventory and consumer preferences much more accurately using IoT and self-learning artificial-intelligence (AI) systems, fewer markdowns and lost sales will have a positive impact on the bottom line. IoT sensor technology (for instance, using RFID sensors in various forms) allows retailers to test product placements in stores and determine which articles are selected or tried on most frequently. Retailers can even offer customers the role of being a designer, personal shopper or trend scout, as another means of engagement and getting shoppers to share more information via social-media channels.

Customers, above all else, want instant and accurate information about product availability. If you're shopping for clothes, you want to be sure you're getting the exact size and style you're looking for. But many retailers fall by the wayside here—their systems might tell them that a particular size is available, yet there's a one-in-four chance that this isn't the case.

We can reveal that the average retailer's data is only about 75 percent accurate when it comes to knowing exactly what inventory is actually in stock at any particular moment. The problem is often compounded by retailers continually managing stock across multiple channels and increasingly having to stay on top of consumer demands for up-to-the-minute, reliable information. We found data inaccuracies around inventory to be more of an issue in fashion retail, in which ever shorter product lifecycles, fast turnarounds of stock and multiple styles, sizes and color combinations can play havoc with the supply chain and in-store operations.

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