Why should smaller retailers take advantage of big data?

Joe Jensen: We talk about the value of the Internet of Things (IoT) and data all the time. Until recently, many retailers didn’t understand what IoT meant. It was often equated to devices like smart light switches. But we’re seeing IoT connectivity becoming better understood, standardized and cost-effective as the cost of computing continues to fall dramatically.

The analytics that will enable everyone to use data to find insights is maturing rapidly. Retailers already have more data than they can handle. Now the challenge is about how to use data, rather than the technology itself. Data and analytics are really the heart of the retailer- customer relationship. The last online retailer your customer visited knows exactly what they were first interested in, versus what they eventually purchased. And it knows what they put in their cart and never purchased. Having the ability to take advantage of data will be the differentiator for retailers to grow and engage an expanded customer base. Until now, detailed shopper data was only available to online storefronts.

Giving retailers the ability to bring their brick and mortar stores online, they can combine the best of physical in store experiences with the data previously only available online. We believe that, increasingly, retailers will be separated by those who have data and use it to grow and optimize the shopping experience, and those who don’t and make their decisions based on subjective observations. Used efficiently, data provides customers a more personalized experience and retailers more information on what works and does not work for their specific business.

“Having the ability to take advantage of data will be the differentiator for retailers to grow and engage an expanded customer base.”

It is only by utilizing data analytics, retailers can better understand and connect with their customers by having more visibility about inventory and customer shopping patterns. This will help drive success in the long run and keep the smaller retailers competitive and successful. Now is a great time for retailers to embrace IoT to get the insights they need to build affinity and improve the customer experience. The technology is available for retailers of all sizes. Now, it really comes down to a business choice.

How will connected technology shape the retail industry in five years?

Retailers seem to be turning a corner in terms of using new technologies to better understand their business, connect with customers and deploying the right solutions to take advantage of the massive amounts of data being processed. Compared to previous years, we are seeing that twice as many independent retailers are currently investing in technology that uses data analytics with smart and connected software to make intelligent buying decisions.

In the long-run, it’s all about how connectivity can make retailers more efficient, add value to a person’s life or better serve them as a customer. The question is how we connect things that deliver insight. The Internet of Things and cloud technologies can touch every link of the retail supply chain. IoT technology in stores, also known as “at the edge,” provides insights to better serve customers in real time, when it matters most, and big data in the cloud analyzes data across the retail enterprise for trend and operational insights.

For example, some retail sensor technologies can alert associates to items that are misplaced, or provide up-to-the-minute snapshots of store inventory, including what’s in the back room. They can even tell what items go in to changing rooms but never make it to the cash register. That data can then be filtered and sent to the cloud to better understand trends across stores to make more informed supply chain and distribution decisions. Such an investment will enable retailers to unify every part of their operations, create a positive impact on their bottom line and solve longstanding business challenges.

“We are seeing that twice as many independent retailers are currently investing in technology that uses data analytics…”

What is the coolest technology that you’ve seen implemented in retail?

Data-centric tools are just the start for where technology will take the retail experience. During his keynote at NRF, our CEO Brian Krzanich discussed how innovative retailers like Alibaba are empowering customers to use virtual reality (VR) to shop anywhere in the world without leaving their home. Using VR, customers are engaging in personalized shopping experiences, while the immersive technology is opening doors for retailers to creatively reach new customers and markets.

It is estimated that 40 million U.S. households will have VR goggles within 18 months, and that VR commerce could significantly enhance the e-commerce shopping experience and drive more online sales. Virtual reality will help customers and retailers use data and analytics to maximize investment and impact in retail. It could be a game-changer.

With technology like robots and artificial intelligence to free up employees, every aspect of the store and supply chain will allow retail employees to better focus on the customer and improve the store’s performance. At NRF 2017, we saw Simbe Robotics’ Tally — the world’s first robotic autonomous shelf auditing and analytics solution for retail. Tally works in concert with retail associates by arming them with information to ensure the store’s products are always stocked, in the right place and displaying the correct price tag. The robot operates safely during normal store hours alongside shoppers and employees, and does not require any infrastructure changes to the store.