5 Ways that Smart Shelves Benefit Retailers

Intel points out that “The shelf has been with us for at least a couple of thousand years, and probably longer.” So it’s time for an upgrade.


Retailers have used barcodes for many years to make it easier to track inventory and to ring up items at the cashier. But with IoT clouds and the plunging costs of sensors, batteries, and computing cards, and the spreading understanding of what is possible, retailers will be able to go far beyond bar codes and tap into all kinds of news ways to work with their customers, suppliers, and their own employees.  This will make for more satisfied customers, happier employees, and better relations with suppliers.  All of this translates into improved profits, growth, and keeps them in the game as online retailers threaten their market share.


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1. BLE Beacons

BLE (Bluetooth 4) Beacons let the retailer do targeted advertising right inside the store.  These low costs devices can triangulate the position of shoppers within centimeters.  To receive messages on their smartphone, the shopper opts-in to the system.  The IMEI serial number on the phone identifies the shopper.  Then the retailer can review the shopper’s past shopping history and pitch them products as they walk by.  So they can, for example, offer a discount to the shopper on perfume when they wander by the counter.  And everyone from retailers to cell phone companies sell data on their customers to each other.  They can tap into this data and make target advertising to the individual. 


2. Up-to-the Minute Inventory Tracking

The BLE app knows what inventory is on the shelf because the smart shelf has cameras and RFID tags.  So there is no risk pitching a product that is out of stock.  This inventory tracking will help shoppers and employees in many ways.  It also is an expansion and fine tuning of using the ERP system to track inventory, as this inventory has moved from the warehouse to the shelf.


In-store inventory apps too will help the shopper find what they are looking for.  No longer will they have to search each aisle in the store or ask clerks to find products.  And they won't have to make the long trek to aisle X when what they are searching for is out-of-stock.


Smart shelves stay stocked


3. Tighten the Supply Chain

Closely connected with the idea of tracking inventory by tags and cameras, the retailer can improve how they work with their supply chain.  They can automatically issue replenishment orders to their wholesalers when items are sold out or spoiled.  This will drive down costs as the retailer does not overstock or does not restock too often.  It will help make the returns process easier as well as preventing unsold goods from accumulating.  This will also help the supplier when they fill their trucks and containers and plan their routes in their logistics systems.


4. No More Expiration Dates

Sensors can take the guess work out of monitoring produce and meats.  There are even sensors that can identify volatile organic compounds.  They use various electrochemical processes to turn the smell of these compounds into an electric signal that can be measured.  So, the grocer need not throw out produce because it has passed its expiration date. And with these smart sensors the grocery can get rid of the expiration date label altogether, once consumers learn to trust the sensors.  Sensors too can adjust humidity and the temperature to keep the produce and meat fresh.


5. Virtual Shelves

One difference you notice when you go between the USA and Europe is that in the USA, car dealers keep row after row of cars.  That it is a waste of capital and space.  Car dealers and indoors retailers can save space and inventory carrying costs by showing just a few items on a TV display instead of a fully-stocked shelf.  Inventory not on hand can be presented virtually.  They can keep just enough items out front to show what the retailer has for sale.  The shopper can page through items kept in back using their smartphone or some kind of touch display.  There they can see different colors and styles.  Shoppers can try on clothes without putting them on as they drag the image of the apparel across their image in the mirror.  This lets a retailer use less floor space and present more options too.  The shopper can buy from the display or ask a clerk to bring it out so they can inspect it first hand or try it on.


These are just a few examples of how retailers can use smart shelves to benefit themselves, their customers, their suppliers, and stockholders.  Each new idea spawns another so the application of IoT, sensors, and big data to brick and mortar retailing is going to keep on growing.


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