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Connected Consumers: IoT in Retail

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Originally running in our 6th Edition Report, ex-Editor, reporter and contributor to WhichPLM, Ben Hanson, discusses the Internet of Things in Retail. This piece accompanies a dedicated IoT series from Ben, all of which you can find in our 6th Edition. 

Very few people would argue that the Internet has irreversibly changed retail. E-commerce is listed by the Centre for Retail Research as the fastest-growing retail market in Europe and North America, and where traditionally brick-and-mortar retailers competed with one another, today they are united in fear of online giants like ASOS and Amazon.

Consider, though, how rapidly that landscape has changed. Just twenty years ago, Amazon sold an extremely limited range of items from a garage in Bellevue, Washington; today it dominates the retail conversation, and has made significant strides with its own private label apparel brands, building an enviable pool of talent and infrastructure that, perhaps rightly, has traditional fashion companies well and truly spooked.

But although Amazon has all but destroyed the physical book store and reshaped the landscape of delivery across hundreds of markets, it is by no means the only online-exclusive success story. British e-commerce-only retailer ASOS passed a turnover threshold of £1 billion ($1.3 billion) in 2014, and is targeting sales of £2.5 billion ($3.3 billion) to UK, European, and Asian markets in the near future – all without a single physical retail location.

It is no stretch of the imagination to say that, wherever I am in the world, I can have whatever I want – within reason – delivered to my front door as quickly as tomorrow morning.

Understandably, physical retail has struggled to differentiate itself from its online counterpart. Why, after all, should shoppers brave the weather and the crowds to browse an artificially limited selection when rapid delivery, complete ranges, and hassle-free returns are available from the comfort of the couch? So while so-called “showrooming” remains a force to be reckoned with – shoppers entering bricks and mortar stores to try on clothes, only to buy them cheaper online – retail executives have experimented with various technologies to carve out new, unique selling points for the physical store.

Many of these already fall under the rubric of the Internet of Things: solutions such as smart, connected mirrors, loyalty applications, and even the now-essential click-and-collect service all make some use of the connectivity and consumer engagement that typifies the IoT. But nevertheless these are likely to represent just the tip of the iceberg for the potential of the IoT to further transform the retail experience – online and off.

“The IoT is the next big thing in a continuum of more than fifteen years of technology-driven  transformation in the retail space,” as Chad Markle of Kalypso put it. And he and the other industry figures interviewed for this publication were unanimous in predicting that IoT technologies will be key to improving our understanding of consumer demand, revitalising the shopping experience across channels, and reclaiming a level of customer service and engagement that many feared was permanently lost.

THE MODERN MERCHANT

“I come from a retail background, so I know from first-hand experience how disengaged the industry has become from its customers,” Amit Kumar from Gerber Technology admitted. “There was a personal connection that existed before the industrialisation of apparel – when we were all mom and pop stores and everyone knew everyone – but that was lost as part of the growing pains associated with the industrialisation and internationalisation processes. The IoT is the next revolution; it can allow us to re-establish the human touch, engage with customers, and – taking account of security and privacy – take back and reinterpret the role of the traditional retailer.”

I have written about the changing place in society that retail is expected to fill before; it figured as a major theme in several National Retail Federation events, and evidence suggests that despite the incredible level of convenience and selection offered by online stores, the knowledge and intimacy of a more traditional model – underpinned by the cutting edge in technology – might be due for a return.

As the rise of Amazon shows us, retail very rapidly became about getting as many products as possible into people’s hands in the shortest span of time. The e-commerce rush took us from absolute zero in the early 1990s to today, where, according to renowned advertising agency DDB Worldwide, 40% of all men aged 18 to 34 would prefer to buy everything online. Not just clothing. Everything.

In that race to redefine convenience, though, millennia’s worth of tradition was thrown out of the window. By targeting more customers than ever before, and turning the transactional experience with them around more rapidly, retailers all but abandoned customer relationships in the traditional sense. And while analytics-driven recommendations fulfil a similar purpose on e-commerce websites, they are no replacement for the humble shopkeeper: knowledgeable, personable, available, expert, and local. He or she once knew why you came in today, and if they didn’t, they certainly knew enough about their collections and your desires to help you find what you were looking for. In short, they were connected to their customers in a way it’s incredibly difficult to be when they’re potentially on the other side of the world.

“Connection can mean different things to different consumers at different times,” said Petah Marian, Senior Editor of Retail Intelligence at trend forecasting agency WGSN, when I asked her to try and define how the relationship between retailers and shoppers has shifted. “It can mean communicating with them in the way that they want to be spoken to, or offering them products that suit their lifestyles with a level of speed or service they like – it really depends on the consumer need at the time, and the sort of consumer the retailer is servicing. The one constant is that consumers’ expectations are higher than ever, and they continue to rise. In a world where cars and food can be ordered seamlessly and with very little wait, customers are becoming increasingly impatient with retailers that can’t service them in that way.”

One of the simplest models for competing with the instant gratification of the hospitality industry, or the automatically-generated recommendations that make cross-selling online so effective is, of course, to copy them. But for physical retailers, this requires a much wider – and more costly – set of tools than a bicycle courier or IP address recognition and cookies.

“One of the unique selling points of Amazon has been their “customers also bought” suggestions, and this is something IoT technologies can help us achieve, and even improve upon, in physical retail space,” Warren Tucker of PwC told me. “As a shopper walks into the dressing room, the clothing they have brought in could be identified through RFID tags, and cross-selling and upselling items could be displayed on a screen next to the hangers. By downloading a basic app to their smartphone, a customer in the dressing room could then request one or more of those recommendations, or a replacement size or colourway, and a salesperson – similarly equipped – would bring it straight to them.

Now you, the retailer, have a much higher conversion rate in your stores, and you have weighted staff time towards sales activities rather than store presentation, which is a much more valuable activity.”

Today’s modern merchant, then, may rely on Big Data and demographic analytics to get the job done, but his or her role finds its closest analogue in the old-fashioned, local shopkeeper. Both seek to gain the most detailed knowledge of their products and the people they are intended for, and both play a vital role in delivering the essential retail experience.

But while most of this personalised interaction can be replicated online, there are other IoT-driven methods of getting people into stores (and improving the time they spend there) that are specifically designed to revitalise physical retail as either a complement or an alternative to e-commerce.

THE CUSTOMER CYCLE

Some of these applications, Petah Marian of WGSN explained, fall specifically into the category of convenience – optimising the way high street and mall-based retail operates to offer a similarly streamlined service to shopping online:

“Loyalty and discount codes that can be distributed to customers based on location are the obvious incentives, but some shopping centre [mall] operators are taking location-tracking services further, helping customers to find a car parking space, or offering a searchable inventory across all their retailers, so out of stock products can be found elsewhere on the same site”.

Another approach that also relies on IoT technologies is for retailers to embrace online, mobile, and even catalogue shopping as viable routes to create new, exciting experiences that encourage customers to visit physical stores, and foster loyalty across channels.

“We already see a lot of interest in augmented reality for enhancing the consumer buying experience by overlaying data onto physical objects,” said Quach Hai of PTC. “Home goods retailers like Lowe’s and Ikea have developed apps that leverage some degree of augmented reality to provide additional information and context to the consumer as they’re interacting with product marketing materials. These companies have coupled traditional print catalogues with mobile applications, allowing the customer to hover their device over the catalogue, see the products displayed in 3D, and interact with them. That’s compelling because I don’t need to drive to my local Lowe’s to get some initial insight into a product, but the more information I do get from their materials, the more likely I am to end up there to make the purchase eventually.”

While some of these applications are delivered through the burgeoning consumer AR and VR (virtual reality) headset market, including high end devices like the Oculus Rift and HoloLens, and lower-end alternatives like Samsung’s Gear VR, these tend to be experiences best had at home. So, as Hai went on to tell me, the best in-store AR strategies make use of the screens and devices that are already in shoppers’ hands. “American Apparel has a good in-store application: the shopper can hover their mobile device over a rack of shoes or clothing and get overlaid information about the available colours and sizes, as well as seeing product reviews from other consumers.”

This approach benefits retailers both directly and indirectly: their engagement with the customer can extend to wherever their smartphone goes, and the retailer avoids the need to refresh in-store technology at the same pace as the near-constant cycle of replacement in the smartphone market.

“The rise of the Internet and mobile devices means that physical stores need to do more to engage customers and get them in,” said Petah Marian of WGSN. “But I recently spoke to the store design director of a major UK retailer who had decided not to invest in in-store screens, because they would never be able to keep up with the capabilities of the technology that is in the customer’s hand.”

This question of long-term viability may cloud much of what happens in consumer-facing IoT in uncertainty – at least until formal standards for certain types of connectivity are codified. The way we, as shoppers, for example, interact with the brands and retailers we love is changing incredibly quickly. Snapchat barely registered as a channel in 2012, but four years later, according to the company’s own statistics, it is installed on more than 60% of all 13-34 year-olds’ devices in America. And eMarketer surveys also revealed that 22% of advertising executives intend to use Snapchat to reach that profitable demographic, despite the fact that it offers only indirect promotional opportunities; there is no way of directly linking a Snapchat or Instagram story to a product page.

For me personally, born at a bit of a transitional time, a big portion of the social media phenomenon passed me by. But while I’m not young enough to be “snapping” my favourite brands (I’m going to assume that’s the verb form) neither am I old enough not to have a perspective on what that entails. Not only are the younger generation fickler than any previous one about the avenues they will use to communicate; they also purchase their technology heavily subsidised by mobile network carriers, meaning that the underlying platforms for that connectivity are prone to changing equally rapidly.

What happens, then, if NFC – currently a fixture of a lot of contactless payment systems – or Apple’s iBeacons are superseded by better alternatives? Smartphone manufacturers are agile enough to move with the times, and the purchasing model for new technologies means that any changes to baseline capabilities will be reflected in the broader market incredibly quickly. In that hypothetical situation, the retailer who invested heavily in rolling out iBeacons or RFID – which several people I interviewed suggested was ripe for improvement or replacement – is now staring down the barrel of an expensive re-tooling of their core consumer engagement systems.

But while the churning cycle of technology may well make some of the technologies we consider essential to the IoT today obsolete in the long term, Andrey Golub (Founder and CEO of “virtual retail and cloud manufacturing” startup ELSE Corp) was keen to remind me just how close the solutions we currently use have come to matching the vision of science fiction.

“If you remember the movie Minority Report [which is set in 2054], Tom Cruise’s character is welcomed by a retail store with personalised advertising based on biometric recognition. This seemed so futuristic when the film released [in 2002] but a lot of it is achievable today. What I see as the real future is that stores conduct this kind of personalised advertising, but no longer hold stock of product at all. Body scanners, 3D simulations, augmented and virtual reality, and potentially just-in-time manufacturing will instead allow shoppers to customise products suggested just for them, and then have them made right in the store.”

Whether you find this vision to be dystopian or utopian will rather depend on your perspective on personal privacy – covered in greater detail shortly – but what is inarguable is that the data that could power this level of personalisation is already being traded between brands, retailers, and consumers. From the way we behave in-store to the way we use our products after purchase, we either willingly or involuntarily provide companies with extremely valuable insights in exchange for better experiences. And one of the most obvious and interesting ways this relationship manifests itself is in the popularity of wearable technology.

WE ARE WHAT WE WEAR

Many examples of consumer-facing IoT rely on either the unknowing exchange of information, or a grudging sort of acceptance; the idea of getting better customer service in exchange for providing some simple demographic data being an example of the latter. One of the most talked about faces of the IoT, however, is one that consumers voluntarily immerse themselves in: wearable technology for the purpose of health and fitness tracking.

Everyone knows someone who is completely immersed in their Fitbit, Jawbone, Nike+ or similar ecosystem. While it was extremely unusual to see a human being wearing technology on their body a decade ago, it is now commonplace, and is, I think, indicative of how the IoT will slowly but surely infiltrate different strata of society – by providing a level of utility that the wearer feels is a worthwhile trade-off in exchange for becoming a node in the global network.

Kay Rathschlag, founder of the German company developing the Antelope electro muscle stimulation (EMS) smartsuit, has a strong opinion on where that kind of utility should come from, and how platform holders should look to use it:

“Wearable technology is a really interesting field, and one that’s going to grow really quickly in the next few years. All the big players in consumer technology are already entering the market with smart watches and fitness trackers, but I believe the second generation of these products will be much smarter. Eventually, of course, there will be no need to wear an activity tracker because the same technology can be integrated into your clothes. In the case of Antelope, combinations between the muscle activating power of the suit and IoT technologies are going to help us, as platform owners, become more like personal trainers than brand owners. We want to be able to prompt people when they haven’t worked out in a while, and we want sensor data to tell us whether they are doing their exercises correctly or not. Done right, IoT-enabled fitness garments can do much more than traditional wearables to bring brands and their customers closer together.”

Antelope is an interesting case study in wearable technology for several reasons: first, it goes beyond surface-level tracking to become an active device whose connectivity to the user’s smartphone is truly bi-directional. Secondly, it showcases one potential direction for integrating complex, active electrical systems into performance materials, creating aesthetically pleasing sportswear with cutting-edge technological functionality.

While Rathschlag’s goal could be summed up as creating wearable science, another interviewee believes that for technology embedded in garments to truly advance, the industry will need to address the gulf between what is considered wearable, and what is considered fashionable.

“I think that for wearable technology to achieve broad adoption, design will be vital,” said Angela Pan, founder of Ashley Chloe, which develops “digital wearables designed expressly for the modern lifestyle”. While the company’s initial wearable, the Helix Cuff Bluetooth headphone, is not an IoT product in the strictest sense (it connects to a smartphone, but not the wider web), it is potentially one product in a new vanguard of wearable technology that seeks to blend functionality more evenly with form – something Pan believes many wearable manufacturers currently ignore:

“The consumer electronics industry has been trying to enter the fashion space for a while, but a lot of the gadgets and technologies lack that truly desirable element. Look at the Apple Watch: functionally it is not all that different from other smart watches and wearables, and a lot of people mainly use it for notifications and basic fitness tracking. But it succeeded on the basis of two things that are very familiar to the fashion industry: simplicity and brand recognition. It is going to take time for customers, fashion companies, and technology companies to find the right balance, but I know that making technology fashionable will be the only way wearables will truly succeed in the market.”

Both traditional and more advanced (or more stylish) wearables will, however, share a common currency that brings to the fore concerns that some privacy groups – and some users – have about the ownership of personal data. The information streams that wearables generate once we have them on our wrists belong simultaneously to us and to the companies who own and maintain the backend systems that house and make use of them.

The way this information is treated – and the implications of collecting it in the first place – is distinct from data security, which is covered in an opinion piece later in this publication, and asks a much broader question: what will it mean to buy connected apparel that can communicate, in real-time, where we are and what we’re doing?

PRIVATE LIVES; PUBLIC PLACES

Amazon achieves its aforementioned automated product suggestions by tracking our browser histories – something that, until recently, it was not required to tell us it was doing. European Union legislation recently changed that dynamic, however, and shoppers are becoming increasingly aware that their browsing is being data mined. And retailers hoping to mirror that strategy of cross-selling may find themselves walking into a similar minefield.

Consumers, as we have established, buy wearable technology in order to get measurable insights into their health and fitness, and those metrics are communicated to the brand owner with express consent; but when we walk into a store and find ourselves being tracked, are we making a similar statement of intent?

Data privacy is an incredibly complex legal topic and one we do not have the space to cover here, but at the highest level I believe the jury is still out on what constitutes explicit versus implicit consent in advertising and profiling. We are, after all, tracked through the streets of our cities via CCTV, and retail stores have used footfall counters and other methods of demographic analysis for decades.

What is unclear, though, is how much this ambiguity actually matters to the new generation of shoppers. By coincidence or by design, the IoT is entering retail at a time when customers are more willing than ever before to be advertised to, and to participate in promotions and other activities that previous generations might have found intrusive. In 2016, brands and retailers are targeting a consumer who is willing to be engaged, provided they can build an experience or a level of convenience that captures them in the moment.

The differences in generational attitudes to privacy are, for me, quite neatly encapsulated in the iris scanners that began to be added to smartphones this summer. These are certainly secure – more so than fingerprints, given that eyes are not easily cloned – but when a technology becomes sufficiently affordable and capable that it is embedded into common consumer devices, it is not difficult to envision less-than-honest uses for it in government or private enterprise hands. Also, what was wrong with just putting in a passcode?

As you may have guessed, I, personally, would find the idea of being iris-scanned when I entered a shop, and then being presented with discounts as I walk past the things I like, uncomfortable. Some, on the other hand, would find it incredibly useful, and its privacy implications may simply never enter their minds. So perhaps I’m just getting old.

To try and confirm those suspicions one way or the other, I asked interviewees whether attitudes towards privacy are generational, cultural, or a combination of both. And while the answers I received were enlightening, they also confirmed something I suspect I may always have secretly known about myself: that my own level of discomfort with intrusive technology becomes something of a secondary concern when there is a discount at the other end of the tunnel.

“I think people are quite prepared to give away their data if there’s an economic advantage for them,” said Warren Tucker of PwC. “If someone chooses to download an app on their phone that allows a retailer to know their preference and location, that retailer can then start to do some pretty interesting, real-time things that benefit both parties. When that customer walks into a shopping mall and past a certain store, basic technologies like iBeacons can push a relevant offer to them, based on their historical buying habits. A lot of digital native companies are doing this already; they’re just not yet blending it with the physical side of retail.”

The form these benefits for the consumer take will vary depending on the applications, but Britta Riedl from Koppermann envisions clear opportunities for loyal shoppers to help shape the next season of products from their favourite brands:

“The relationship between manufacturers and brands to customers is often based first and foremost on the mutual transfer of information. In this scenario the brand provides the latest information on current and planned products, and the customer evaluates the portfolio and communicates personal preferences for future collections. Targeted use of the Internet of Things in this regard can support the bidirectional flow of data between both partners, thereby gaining a deeper customer understanding whilst sustainably encouraging brand awareness and customer loyalty.”

While these kinds of interactive opportunities may prove compelling, perhaps the most enduring way that consumers will stand to benefit from the exchange of personal information is our innate desire to feel as though we’re getting a bargain, as Charlotte Kula-Przezwanski of Columbus Consulting explained:

“For luxury brands, I think loyalty can be created by communicating with dedicated customers and asking them to preview and provide feedback on future ranges. But throughout the UK and Europe we have become coupon junkies, and if we are going to give away our personal information – whether that’s where we are, where we shop, or more detailed buying habits – to the mass market, we want something in return. This is the new loyalty equation for the bulk of the retail industry. The same principles of communication and understanding apply to both markets, but the approach differs.”

A common belief among the various industry figures I spoke to – many of whom have a vested interest in creating a sustainable future of information exchange between retailers and their customers – is that when the customer feels valued as part of this relationship, their level of engagement is likely to be of a higher value than in cases where data is relinquished involuntarily.

“When parting with information is voluntary, the quality of the contact for other consumer engagement purposes is extremely high,” said Michele Casucci of Certilogo. “If the product is also physically in the customer’s hand at the point of interaction, an even deeper level of connection can be created.”

This is an opinion shared by Guy Alroy of Optitex, who anchored the theory in a long-running, practical application of the IoT in other areas of our personal lives:

“Look at the Waze satellite navigation system [now owned by Google]. I used it for years before the acquisition, and it’s a fascinating case study for how the contributor of data – the driver in this case – should feel as though they are getting something useful in return. If an application is only designed to collect data, people are far less likely to cooperate than if there is some clear value for them – in this case receiving live traffic updates and allowing them to make better decisions. Making this example more relevant to apparel, once wearable technology actually becomes part of the garment, we will be able to deliver a better customer experience at the same time as creating real value for merchandising, planning, and fit teams.”

This is also, I should add, hardly the first time that automation and raw data interchange has replaced human interaction in situations that are linked closely to our personal identities, and Susan Olivier of Dassault Systèmes argues that what seems unusual now will soon become the norm as attitudes and applications evolve over time:

“I remember when ATM machines were first introduced, and how strange it felt to be able to go and get cash without interacting with a real bank teller. You’d compare the notes to your receipt afterwards, and in the unlikely event something went wrong, there was nobody to talk to. We don’t even think about that any more – it just doesn’t register with us as being unusual. So I think for brands and retailers, this new level of consumer intelligence is going to be a trade-off between privacy and convenience that develops over time. It’s likely to be push and pull for a while, but it’s an irreversible tide that’s coming. You may not want a particular coupon pushed to you walking by, but a mother shopping for childrenswear might be thrilled to get it. Or a heavy coffee drinker might be happy to know  there’s a Starbucks two blocks over, and here’s a coupon for their favourite latte. Once those personas are fine-tuned, it will be the norm to give brands permission to interact with us in ways that we find useful.”

As a case in point, I do not remember a time before ATMs, so I have absolutely no compunctions about handling a transaction from my cherished current (checking) account or my life savings with a machine. So as these new concepts propagate into the mainstream and new generations of consumers enter target demographics, we may find the last pockets of resistance disappearing in a similar way. And if not, the right offer may be all it takes to tip the scales, as Mike Anderson, CTO and Chief Scientist for engineering and real-time computing services company PTR Group predicts:

“When I have spoken to security professionals, they’ve told me they’d never allow a smart fridge to act on their behalf and automatically reorder milk, which is a common example of the IoT in action. It’s too intrusive, they say, and they find it uncomfortable. But what if the grocery store gave them a five percent discount for handling your ordering and fulfilment that way? They said no. Ten percent? No. Fifteen percent? Probably not. Twenty percent? Well, for twenty percent, yes. So we’ve just established that even security professionals have a price – and that getting the insight you want into an individual or group really is just a matter of negotiation.”

I actually consider myself quite protective of my digital identity, but even I have to admit that there are quite a few things that a 20% discount might get me to compromise my principles for. I don’t like to second-guess, but I imagine you can, too.

While some of these examples sound pessimistic, it’s important to remember that transparent, IoT-enabled interactions and information sharing can also be used to involve the customer more deeply in the product design, development and production processes. And the results can be better quality, greater trend accuracy, and improved fit across apparel, footwear and accessories.

DESIGNED WITH YOU IN MIND

As I mentioned earlier, retailers seek above all else to better understand and better serve their customers. While the volume and variety of data they are now capable of collecting has potential implications for privacy, it is also a fundamental component of a much more positive application of IoT technologies: inviting the customer to collaborate on the creation of better products.

One example of this philosophy put into practice is the use of in-store intelligence, paired with usage data from connected products, and communicated to retailers and brand owners with the goal of improving fit and quality, as Brion Carroll from PTC explained:

“The more people buy products that generate usage information – wearables today, but more general apparel and footwear in the future – the more that information can be used to develop better products. And in a similar sense, when a retailer has detailed information about shoppers’ activities in-store, that can be shared with the owners of the brands they sell, helping them to achieve a greater level of sell-through or conversion to cash. That equation has value for all parties: my interactive fitting room might reveal that 25% of customers trying on a particular pair of jeans are then asking for a different size, even though they picked their usual waist and leg measurements off the shelf. That’s information the brand owner can use to improve fit and quality, and it’s data the retailer can use to redefine the shopping experience and pursue greater customer satisfaction.”

Another name for customer satisfaction, of course, is loyalty, and Andrey Golub of ELSE Corp paints a vivid picture of how improved products and better relationships might underpin the creation of personalised replenishment schedules and other applications:

“We believe in the rebirth of CRM and brand loyalty. Consider the famous “long tail” of Internet purchases, which has already changed the way we think of business models. In future, this may become the main method of ongoing relationships between retailers and customers, with shoppers able to re-order past purchases and request new iterations on items they already have in their wardrobes with a single click. Imagine a scenario where I can say “Siri, get me a shirt just like the one I bought last month, only in dark blue rather than black”.”

Lorna Ward, a Partner at PwC Consulting Services, responsible for retail technology, picks up on these ideas and adds another IoT device to the mix: the wardrobe itself. As Amazon’s dash buttons (small IoT devices subsidised by brands that allow for single-press re-ordering of regularly purchased items like detergent) have attempted to do for household goods, a connected wardrobe or home mirror could quite easily allow customers to re-order basics once they have exceeded their durability threshold, or request new styles that complement the articles and accessories they already have at home, without going near a retail store:

“We hear a lot about the connected refrigerator as a compelling IoT application, but is there any reason it couldn’t be a connected wardrobe? By adding RFID tags to clothing we, as retailers, can then start to gather information and take actions based on what people are actually wearing, rather than just what they’re buying.”

The undercurrent of both these examples is a level of individuation in market data that brands and retailers in every industry have thus far struggled to achieve without IoT technologies. For customers who are satisfied with providing detailed insight to businesses, stepping out from under the veil of anonymity, their digital identity can then be used to tailor a range of different services and products targeted specifically at their niche – something Brion Carroll from PTC believes will be a key differentiator for companies who develop a clear IoT strategy.

“I think the key value driver for the IoT in RFA is enabling the retailer or brand owner to understand their customers’ buying habits,” Carroll told me. “This is different to the traditional approach, where a designer creates from his or her own inspiration and asks whether people want to buy the resulting products. Today, brands and retailers are serving very well-defined markets, and we believe vehemently that the IoT can enable them to build incredibly detailed personas from heightened levels of consumer intelligence, then use that insight to develop specifically for their actual market, rather than an imagined one. This isn’t just connectivity for connectivity’s sake; it’s all in service of allowing designers and developers to ask themselves, before creating products, what a forty-year-old soccer mom, with a salary of $42,000 per year, for example, wants today, and what she might want next month. We’re talking about being able to analyse how weather affects buying patterns, or how the complex world of macro and microeconomics govern consumer behaviour. There are so many variables in the minds of shoppers, and we know that if we can get retailers and brand owners information access to those, they will develop products that better fit what the market wants now, and as it evolves.”

The ability for brands and retailers to execute that development is the subject of the next feature in this publication, which examines how businesses can align their processes to respond to new levels of insight into consumer demand, and highlights other ways in which the Internet of Things can potentially transform design, development, supply chain, and manufacturing processes.

Ben Hanson Ben Hanson is one of WhichPLM’s top contributors. Ben has worked for magazines, newspapers, local government agencies, multi-million pound conservation projects, museums and creative publications before his eventual migration to the Retail, Footwear and Apparel industry.Having previously served as WhichPLM’s Editor, Ben knows the WhichPLM style, and has been responsible for many of our on-the-ground reports and interviews over the last few years. With a background in literature, marketing and communications, Ben has more than a decade’s worth of experience, and is now viewed as one of the industry’s best-known writers.