The Internet of Things: The Connected World Is Here and Now

Look around you and you will see thousands of “things” all within your immediate vicinity. Your keychain. Your desk chair. Your favorite coffee mug filled with Italian Roast coffee. Your dying ficus plant. With today’s technology, there is no reason why these things cannot communicate with you, in-real time.

  • Your plant should tell you, not only that it needs water, but how much and what position to place it during the day
  • Your coffee mug should know what kind of roast you want to drink today
  • You should be able to find your keys at a moment’s notice because you have a bad habit of misplacing them the moment you are about to go somewhere
  • Your desk chair should automatically adjust itself when it detects you are sitting with poor posture (reminder: stop slouching)

As luck would have it, there are technologies for each one of these things, being built. Right. Now. (See for yourself: Plant | Coffee | Keys | Chair).

The Hardware (R)evolution.

While  cliche, the world we are living in is becoming increasingly more connected, more now than ever before. While in research in development only a few years ago, technologies like RFID, NFC, and Zigbee are enabling the next generation of connected devices in a cost and energy efficient way. In fact, consumer goods that weren’t previously connected 18 months ago are now online. Recent examples, include:

As enabling technologies become cheaper and smaller, companies will be forced to innovate and think about how their offline products can get online.

Personalization.

Getting offline products into the 21st century is only the tip of the iceberg. Enhancing these products with connected technologies has to transform the product experience, be personal, and have utility. The bar for product experiences is so high, not executing against these objectives will result in a gimmicky, failure of an experience.

For example: A shoe company may want to create a running shoe with a GPS Dot. These “online shoes” should not only track where (and how long) the user was running, but it should provide actionable insights based on what the shoe company already knows about you: recommend running trails based on your running style and preferences, alert you when your friends are close by, give you a discount if you walk by a their store, and let you know how hard to run based on your body fat and weight goals.

Utility vs. Privacy

Privacy generally is a topic of concern when more devices become online and “all knowing.” As we’ve seen from the internet and media today, and in light of recent NSA privacy concerns, users are willing to give up certain liberties to connect with friends (Facebook), share their thoughts (Twitter), utilize free email (Google), or make free international calls over the internet (Microsoft/Skype). We believe its important for companies who are contemplating an online product strategy understand these implications and balance the utility an online product with the user’s privacy and the company’s ethics/values.

Questions to ask when developing a retail mobile strategy

Lately, retailers (both large and small) have seemed to focus on their omni-channel strategy: leveraging social channels to drive traffic, traditional mediums to promote cross-channel awareness, and e-commerce to streamline the transaction process.

But what about the mobile touch point of the customer experience? These days, many retailers have a mobile app: but is this the right mobile app for you and your customer? In an age where nearly 58% of customers conduct online/social research prior to purchasing an item at a brick-and-mortar retail store, retailers should be thinking about how their app can (a) enhance the customer experience and (b) streamline the path to purchase. Sometimes these objectives are one in the same. Here are some questions to ask yourself when developing a mobile strategy for your retail environment.

What are your customer’s pain points? Every retailer is different: Different store layouts, different SKUs, different check-out process. As a retailer, you should ask your customers what their biggest pain points are when shopping in your brick-and-mortar retail store. By the same token, you should also ask yourself how you can solve this pain point with the customer’s mobile device. Some scenarios to think about:

  • Are your checkout lines too long?
  • Do they want to know what is on sale?
  • Do your customers need help with an item?
  • Do your customers need help navigating your store to find a category or SKU?
  • Would your customers prefer a ship-to-home option rather than hauling the item in their car?
  • Do your customers want to know what the price is of an item?

Why should your customer use your app? Once you’ve figured out your customer’s pain points, you should ask yourself why a customer should (a) download and (b) use your app. With thousands of apps on the market, and room for ~20 apps on the user’s Home screen, a better question may be: Why will the customer want to use your app more than once?

  • Do your app solve the problem (above) in a way that enhances the customer experience?
  • Do customers who use your app have a significant advantage over customers who don’t use it?
  • Does the customer receive value in the form of discounts or loyalty rewards?
  • Does the app enhance the offline and cross-channel customer experience?

Operationalizing the mobile experience to wow your customers

In some, or maybe all, of these scenarios the retailer may need to operationalize the experience around the mobile app. For example:

  • How do you handle loss prevention if you implement mobile check-out?
  • How do you greet loyal customers who enter your store?
  • How do you redeem loyalty rewards via the mobile app for a customer who is ready to check-out?
  • Do you offer flash-sales for customers who scan a SKU using their mobile phone, based on their purchasing history?

We believe the best mobile experiences are the ones that “start with the end” — and in the case of retail, we believe starting with the desired customer experience in the context of mobile, will help bring brick-and-mortar retailing to the 21st century.