When online retail first started going mainstream, it was revolutionary. Gone was the need to make the trip to a particular store when you wanted something. Provided it wasn’t urgent, you could sit at home, place your order, and have it delivered to your door in a matter of days. And as the years went by, e-commerce became the dominant form of retail, with its brick-and-mortar rival suffering greatly (and being significantly reduced) as a result.
Despite this, there’s still plenty of room for offline retailers to thrive. When you need a commonly-available product as quickly as possible, there’s no viable alternative to a physical store. Furthermore, there are plenty of items that are best considered in person. Items of clothing, comestibles, cosmetic treatments, electronic devices, pieces of furniture… shopping for them online deprives the shopper of invaluable contextual information (how something smells, how it looks up close, how it operates, etc.).
Consequently, there’s been a significant gap separating these two forms of retail. One offers lower prices and greater convenience for those who can wait. The other offers richer experiences and can be more convenient for those who need to get products imminently.
But does this gap need to continue? Perhaps not. The future may lie in a confluence of online and offline retail. And the key might be the growth of the IoT. You can learn more about developing them on How to Develop an App from Scratch — but for the moment, let’s take a look at how IoT-driven apps can change our retail possibilities:
Automatically tracking and charging for products
Amazon launched its Amazon Go scheme for the public at the start of 2018, and it’s a concept that’s surely going to become widespread at some point. The idea is simple enough: instead of needing to scan your selected items and manually pay for them before leaving a store, you can simply have your account picked up when you enter, all the items you pick up automatically logged, and the right amount charged to your account when you exit.
This is entirely possible through IoT tech, with numerous devices used to track which items have been taken and which accounts are present. And of course, the shoppers must have the necessary Amazon app installed to sync with the system.
Allowing online merchants to easily sell “offline”
Traditional retail is typically extremely expensive and complicated: you need to find (and rent) space for a store, brand it and get all the equipment set up, source the products you need in stock, hire the staff to keep it running, and find ways to get people through the doors.
Now think about running an online store: minimal startup and running costs, no need for extra staff, and no serious negative consequences if it doesn’t become successful. Doesn’t that sound so much easier? You can understand why an e-commerce merchant might not be interested in selling through the brick-and-mortar model.
While it’s still an expensive option, IoT apps are making the crossover significantly easier. Take the Shopify POS system, for instance: through the use of mobile connectivity (both WiFi and Bluetooth), it allows offline sales to be fully logged through an online back-end, and can even supply the necessary hardware — including receipt printers, barcode scanners, and smart cash drawers — for a merchant to kit out a fully-synchronized physical store.
Supporting convenient orders from IoT devices
When you’ve heard of smart fridges and other such IoT-enabled devices, have you thought of them as running apps? Well, since they generally run stripped-down (or at least modified) versions of Android, you should think of them that way — particularly when they can be adjusted through corresponding mobile apps, as is often the case.
You can also look at Amazon’s Dash system. You can set up a range of physical buttons with purchase actions assigned to them. Keep running out of toiletries? Program it into a Dash button and simply press it whenever you start to run low. We’re moving towards a future with smart devices automatically placing orders and consumers having the ability to customize their shopping experiences. Apps and their associated APIs make this model possible.
Helping e-commerce buyers use collection options
The click-and-collect model (or click-and-brick, depending on which term you prefer) has really picked up steam in recent years. This isn’t too surprising because it offers a lot of value. You get to browse all available products and select the one you want without any hassle. Then arrange to have it ready for collection so you can pick it up at a time that suits you.
Using IoT-enabled tracking technology makes this process much easier. Instead of being left unsure as to whether your item is ready for collection, you can get notified through an app the moment it’s logged as delivered and receive confirmation of when you can get it. You can also use that app to verify your identity when picking it up.
We live in a time of unprecedented buyer convenience, and the rise of IoT apps is only adding to that by introducing remarkable connections and automation. It’s going to be extremely interesting to see what fresh innovations retailers come up within the next few years.