Retailers are gearing up for a holiday season unlike any before. Nearly half of U.S. adults say they are more interested in shopping online for the holidays compared to last year, signaling to retailers that they need to reconfigure their operations to support an increased e-commerce demand.
The internet of things (IoT) can help alleviate impending burdens on supply chains and ensure consumers receive a high-quality shopping experience while also adhering to health and safety advisories. Here’s how retailers can increase efficiencies with the IoT this holiday season:
As shopping skyrockets during the holiday season, retailers will need to keep warehouses well stocked to avoid running out of high-demand gifts. Instead of having warehouse employees manually count inventory — which is time-intensive and presents risk of virus exposure — warehouse managers can deploy IoT-enabled sensors to detect product weights on shelves.
Rapid decreases in weight signal to operators which products are particularly popular so that they know to replenish that inventory. Likewise, for weights that remain stagnant, managers will know not to reorder any more units and risk wasted spend. Additionally, having an up-to-date inventory enables retailers to balance the quantities of goods to be shipped to storefronts with those reserved for e-commerce.
As more consumers turn to online holiday shopping to avoid in-store crowds this season, customer satisfaction will be heavily dependent on whether they receive their orders in a timely and secure manner. To mitigate disruptions along delivery routes that could jeopardize the integrity of packages — and therefore the customer experience — retailers can attach IoT-enabled devices to shipments and containers.
Capable of collecting live updates on package whereabouts, these devices allow retailers to provide customers with timely delivery approximations. Amid much uncertainty this holiday season, shoppers will appreciate not having to wonder where their packages are. Additionally, locational data can be actioned by supply-chain operators to optimize their shipment routes. For example, with insights into package whereabouts as goods traverse the supply chain, operators can recognize delays in the warehouse and on the road and intervene and correct them to increase delivery speeds — and increase customer happiness.
IoT-enabled sensors can also detect shipping conditions, like tilt or temperature, that can compromise those more fragile goods if altered along the shipping route. With the ability to detect atmosphere changes when they occur, retailers can remedy the situation before damaged packages arrive to the customer, either stepping in to correct the conditions before they cause harm or replacing the products altogether.
While many consumers are projected to complete their holiday shopping online this year, retailers still need to account for those customers who will opt to shop in-store. Therefore, they’ll need to establish protocols for ensuring their safety.
To accommodate social distancing, retailers will need to manage how many customers are allowed in-store at a time. Instead of monopolizing employees’ time by having them count traffic at the door (which can crowd small spaces further), retailers can place IoT-enabled sensors at entrance and exit points to track foot traffic and shopping carts to monitor how many individuals are in the space.
Social distancing can also be enforced by giving shoppers wearables (wristbands, key fobs or badges) equipped with IoT sensors for while they’re in the store. When paired with customers’ smartphones through either the store’s app or an external contact tracing app, these sensors can detect when shoppers get too close to one another and alert them through the phone. Retailers can also program the apps to record incidents like these for contact tracing purposes.
The coronavirus has redefined the modern shopping experience, and retailers will need to be proactive in updating their operations if they want to retain business this holiday season. By equipping their supply chains and shops with the IoT, retailers can not only deliver a safe holiday shopping experience, but also establish efficiencies that will optimize their business models long after.
Hussain Suleman is vice president of sales for Sigfox USA.
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