Retail is rapidly changing, with a huge increase in the use of technology across every element of the process, from concept to consumer. In particular, the increased prevalence of the ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT) in the retail sector means businesses must adapt and invest in technologies to support this new era of network-controlled device management and automation.
With 70% of retail decision makers globally ready to adopt the IoT to improve the customer experience, according to Forbes, it is clear that retailers understand embracing the IoT era is now business-critical. Harnessing the power of data by investing in IoT-enabling technologies and practices allows for seamless automation, delivering clear benefits in terms of operational efficiency, consumer experience and therefore higher sales conversions.
Changes in consumer behaviour
Thanks to technological advances consumers are now shopping across multiple platforms and expect the products they want to be available 24 hours a day at the touch of a button. More than this, the IoT is further raising consumer expectations and they now want to know where any given product or order is at any given time, until it reaches their front door.
With this in mind, 72% of retailers plan to reinvent their supply chain with real-time visibility enabled by automation, sensors and analytics based on IoT technology. Smarter inventory management and product tracking using barcodes and technology such as radio frequency identification (RFID) is removing human error and allowing more precise data to be collected, for example in transit status. This data can then be passed on to customers, where appropriate, or used to address any issues and avoid losses.
In order to truly capitalise on the IoT era and streamline business processes, logistics operations must become increasingly agile, adopting systems and solutions that enable the on-demand traceability required in today’s connected world. From tracking goods-in at a national distribution hub to identifying consumer shopping profiles to aid in merchandising strategy development, SATO provides barcode and RFID enabled labelling technology to enable real time cloud-based data tracking of entire retail supply chains and consumer behaviour.
Empowering the retail workforce
Data-collection must now occur through every stage of the retail process in order to provide the full traceability, agility and responsiveness expected by the IoT-era consumer. To enable this, an intuitive ‘smart’ tech user experience is a very real requirement for today’s workforce allowing for easy data collection and printing of corresponding labels. SATO’s next generation of portable label printers are user-friendly and highly-customisable for easy integration.
The company’s latest cloud-connected FX3-LX device is equipped with a 7-inch, full colour touch screen and preloaded audio-enabled training videos for a more intuitive experience. The FX3-LX user experience can also be tailored using SATO’s Application Enabled Printing (AEP) technology, creating the ability to deliver electronic traceability, for example, that truly meets the needs of a specific end-user.
By improving data collection and processing and connecting the retail workforce with accurate data management systems they can both streamline back-office processes and provide customers with up to the minute information about a wide variety of product data such as location, stock availability or order status, transforming the consumer experience.
What’s next for data?
As data collection becomes an integral part of the retail process, transparency and methods of data storage will inevitably come to the fore. Blockchain technology, originally developed to allow transactions of the crypto-currency Bitcoin, will allow IoT-gathered data to exist securely on a shared, continually reconciled database. As a blockchain database is not stored in any single location it has an integral robustness, meaning there is no central point for a hacker to attack or corrupt and it is not controlled by a single entity. Hosted by millions of computers simultaneously, blockchain data can be made accessible to anyone on the internet.
In addition, consumers increasingly want to know that the ethical claims companies are genuine. Using blockchain-based timestamping throughout the supply chain provides an easy way to certify that products are authentic. A good recent example is where consumers buying orange juice at Dutch retailer Albert Heijn can now follow the product’s journey using blockchain technology thanks to a partnership between Albert Heijn and Refresco. Through a QR code printed on the packaging, consumers can see which route the juice took to reach the shelf, delivering real transparency in the supply chain and reinforcing the brand’s sutainability and provenance claims. Consumers can see not only where the oranges that go into their juice came from, but also when they were picked and even pay a compliment to the grower with the ‘Like2Farmer’ function.
With over 70 years’ experience in the retail sector, having introduced the first-hand labellers in 1962 and the world’s first thermal transfer label printer in 1974, SATO intimately understands the pace of change and the challenges presented to today’s brands and retailers. Synchronising the online and offline retail environment, creating omnichannel streamlined services, demands up to the minute real time data in terms of both product tracking and consumer behaviour. By understanding and harnessing the power of data with advanced technology, retailers can experience improved business performance and, crucially, deliver a better shopping experience for their customers.