Today’s customers expect more from retailers than ever before.

In the age of always-improving technology, customers want a convenient, seamless shopping experience, whether they’re making their purchases online or in the store. Luckily for retailers, the same technologies that embolden customers are also empowering forward-thinking companies.

Smartphones, tablets and other devices connected through the Internet of Things (IoT) bring the digital world to the physical retail space. And by integrating these in-store technologies with e-commerce sites and mobile apps, retailers drive sales while customizing the shopping experience.

Retail IoT in Action

Picture this: Shopper Karen is interested in buying a new keyboard. She reads online reviews before heading to the store for a hands-on look at her top choices. Before she even steps in the door, location-based beacon technology senses her presence and pushes out customized incentives designed to cross-sell complementary products and encourage in-store purchases.

When Karen has questions about a particular keyboard, a tablet-wielding salesperson checks her purchase history to identify the options most compatible with the hardware Karen already owns. After making further product recommendations, that same employee then performs Karen’s checkout using a mobile point-of-sale system, and Karen leaves without ever waiting in line.

Data-Driven Retail

With a complicated dance of back-end technologies, the above scenario I just described may seem daunting to some retailers. But at its core, this new data-driven retail experience is not so different from how brands have operated in the past.

Whether through surveys, loyalty programs or credit card tracking, retailers have always tried to extract as much customer data as possible. What changed with the coming of the IoT and other technologies was how quickly they could gather and then analyze that data.

Beacons placed in shopping malls and other high-density environments quickly provide basic presence analytics, such as the number of people who pass a storefront, pause at the door or enter the space. The same technology can identify which parts of the store shoppers visit most and how long they stay in certain areas. Retailers can use such information to improve a store’s design and create strategies for bringing in more shoppers.

Integrating e-commerce sites with mobile apps provides additional information about browsing and purchase history. This data lets retailers push highly customized offers to in-store shoppers, which drives sales and helps direct customers to areas of the store they might not have visited otherwise.

Cloud technology adds another element to the mix by giving data-driven retailers a means of analyzing all that customer data without purchasing additional infrastructure. The anytime, anywhere access provided by cloud platforms also makes it easier for retailers to use the data they’ve collected.

Retail Technology Buy-In

While this new path to customer insights may seem like a dream come true for retailers, it isn’t without challenges. IoT sensors can only collect data when customers have actually downloaded a retailer’s app, but a Cisco Systems survey from early 2015 shows that only 47 percent of U.S. shoppers use smartphones to enhance their in-store shopping experience.

To achieve shopper buy-in for mobile applications, retailers need to make apps as useful as possible so customers want to have them open while they’re shopping. For me, a wayfinding app can come in handy in a big-box store where I spend half the time just looking for the item I’m trying to purchase. Also helpful: apps that share additional product information when triggered by sensors in certain product displays.

However retailers choose to offer value, they need to make apps as appealing and frictionless as possible. That means acquiring customer consent via opt-in policies. It also means having employees present product recommendations based on purchase history in ways that feel helpful, not invasive.

Retailers also need to have a firm understanding of the technologies that make all this possible. For the latest expert advice and insights into IoT and cloud platforms, visit CDW’s booth at the National Retail Federation’s Big Show in January.

Can’t make it to the show? Check out BizTech Magazine for all things retail.

 

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