IoT will bring retail shelves to life, allowing the dynamic changing of prices and shelves that can not only re-price products but also take inventory of its contents and re-stock when needed.
Bringing a shelf to life begins with an electronic shelf label system, or e-labels. E-labels are already in use at some retailers; Kohl’s in the U.S. uses them; and U.K. grocer J. Sainsbury is running a trial to see how much time and paper it can save with them. Labels can be programmed onsite and then prices updated automatically from central systems via Wi-Fi.
But the possibilities for digital shelf labels go much further than this. A sensor can be added that understands the level of inventory on the shelf, reading the smart tags on the products. Another sensor could read passing foot traffic to determine whether the product placement is attracting enough passers-by.
According to U.K. retail industry association POPAI, 76% of purchase decisions are made at the shelf-edge. If there is not enough passing traffic, or the prices are too high, the product could be re-priced on-the-spot and/or promoted via Wi-Fi. Prices could also be adjusted to compete with other local retailers. A link to the check-out tills would ensure the correct price makes it to the front of the shop.
If the shelf is looking a little empty, an alert could be sent to store staff, either on their smart phones or via a smart badge, but only if there is further inventory available for re-stocking.
If the shelf is tied into the digital supply chain, it would know what inventory is in the store, what is en-route to the store and what is in the warehouse. Business rules could be set to expedite shipment to stores where the inventory is the lowest and in-store traffic is highest.
Perishable products could be automatically marked down at the end of the trading day. Smart shelves could be linked to a shopping list app on customers’ phones, to point out where the goods are in the store and what is on sale.
The key to leveraging IoT in retail is the ability to connect, sense, correlate and automate in order to add value by increasing intelligence and reducing manual effort. A digital business platform can help retailers to take their smart shelves to the next level, using IoT to sense and connect to a platform that correlates and automates these processes.
The smart shelf is an idea whose time has come. And the Internet of Things is instrumental in making it happen.