What Is “Internet of Things” and Why Does It Matter to Retailers?

By: George Hancock Jr.  |  April 1, 2015

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Certainly, retailers have choices. We can do business the conventional way. We can choose not to use computers or bar code scanners, in some cases. However, most retailers are moving away from that kind of operation. Most of us use a range of modern technology to help us manage our businesses. Those of us who are keeping up with the ever-changing technological landscape might know what “Internet of Things” is and might be able to explain some ways that in which it is affecting retail.

Wikipedia defines Internet of Things (IoT) as “the network of physical objects or ‘things’ embedded with electronics, software, sensors and connectivity to enable it to achieve greater value and service by exchanging data with the manufacturer, operator and/or other connected devices.” An example is RFID, or Radio-frequency Identification, which allows us to easily identify and track things. RFID is used for anything from monitoring inventory to finding lost pets. When I was in college, it was the topic in operations management class. More recently, Square made card readers easier than ever to set up and use, for retail entrepreneurs.

IoT hasn’t only changed the way we track inventory and receive payments. The internet has become so ubiquitous that IoT has invaded our living rooms and changed the way consumers shop. Amazon has extended its ever-growing tentacles into our homes, and not just by way of your computer or smart phone screen. Amazon Dash Button virtually turns your home into a marketplace by letting you simply press a button to order goods. The internet (and FedEx or UPS) does everything for you, except physically pressing the button itself. No doubt, this idea can be expanded so we can order from any retailer.

Soon, we’ll be receiving instant suggestions from retailers, within our apps. Doctors will be able to diagnose certain illnesses remotely and all we’ll need is a smartphone. Then, you’ll be able to connect directly to your preferred pharmacy and order your prescription. You’ll also know when you need to replace filters, ink cartridges and other things without the need to check. Yep, reordering those things will be automated as well. Apps like Voila will connect you to fashion bloggers who will critique your outfit. I foresee that this kind of app would extend to retailers that can meet the needs of the app users who are missing a blouse in the right color, for example.

These are just a few ways internet and connectivity are changing the retail industry. I don’t think of myself as a tech evangelist, but I do believe it will be up to retailers to make sure they don’t get left behind by tech-savvy, change-embracing competitors.

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