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In previous newsletters, we’ve described how advanced technology might continue to increase the speed at which customers can get through stores and pay for their purchases. For example, we noted that RFID tags embedded in products someday might allow shoppers to walk through a sensor with their purchases and have the charges taken from their account, without ever interacting with an employee or even slowing down their pace. But with all these promises come some threats. Not every customer is interested in so much efficiency. Sometimes they want to chat with sales clerks or take their time. So how are retailers and service providers to know who wants what?

Germany, Cologne, Young woman with mobile in supermarketThe answer may come from new technologies that allow companies to determine what customers want based on what they select while in the store. These technologies are not focused solely on RFID, though the tags remain important potential elements. But the Internet of Things instead refers to the notion that virtually everything might someday be connected in some way to mobile technologies, which in turn would improve service delivery and marketing capabilities. For example, municipalities might embed garbage cans and recycling containers with Internet connections, which could tell trucks when they needed to empty the containers or which weeks they could skip a particular route.

For grocery stores, Cisco is developing a shelf sensor that allows the retailer to determine the moment at which the supply of milk is getting low. Obviously, that information prompts the grocer to restock. In addition though, when the milk is moving quickly, it tells the store to open more checkout counters. That’s because most consumers grab their milk (and ice cream and other frozen product) last, right before they leave, to prevent the perishable items from melting or spoiling in the cart. If lots of people are grabbing milk at the same time, they probably are all about to check out, so opening more lines will be beneficial.

Panera also is working with Cisco to develop an integrated program that allows diners to order in advance and have their take-out meal ready when they arrive. Others, who plan to dine in, might order using an in-store kiosk or a dedicated mobile app. All of these patrons can track the progress of their orders on in-store screens. The various elements also allow people to pay readily and ensure that their orders are prepared correctly.

These benefits largely revolve around efficiency. But in addition, the Internet of Things (or more accurately, according to one observer, the Internet of Everything) can be associated with virtually anything, such as clothing racks in stores. In this case, the racks could alert sales clerks when a shopper has lingered for an extended period of time near a particular rack, encouraging them to head in that direction to offer assistance. Because everything is connected, the sales clerk then could help the customer purchase the items on the spot, walk the customer over to a traditional checkout desk, point the customer to a self-checkout kiosk, or encourage the shopper to walk the purchases through an RFID-enabled exit that would tally the charges automatically.

As this example shows, the promise of the Internet of Things is that it can better allow stores and service providers to give customers the level and type of service they prefer, at the moment they prefer it. That kind of value may prove irresistible to the customers of the near future.

Discussion Question:

How is technology improving customer service in retail stores?

 

Source: M.V Greene, “Drawing a Line on Checkout,” Stores, August 11, 2015

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