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The most disruptive development yet?

Internet of things commerce will pave the way for new-generation technologies covering logistics, inventory and supply chain management.
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The “work-from-anywhere” distributed operational model has resulted in the appearance of new armies of mobile workers. It also helped spawn a legion of mobile consumers whose appetite for a digitally-led lifestyle is growing exponentially.

This new breed of consumer, able to optimise the latest digital channels available to them, presents a challenge to retail companies, which need to keep current with technological developments associated with online shopping, the popularity of which will continue to increase.

Retailers have already had to embrace the change from e-commerce to m-commerce (mobile commerce), which is the buying and selling of goods and services through wireless handheld devices such as smartphones and tablets.

Now they are faced with the need to invest in what is described as “the most disruptive development in recent times”.

The modern IOT commerce model significantly broadens the scope of conventional machine-to-machine communications.

It is internet of things (IOT) commerce – a concept only envisioned in theory for many years – which relates to the purchasing of products and services online via the use of IOT devices.

The “smart fridge”, which automates the reordering of groceries, is a prototypical model, while Amazon’s discontinued, WiFi-connected Dash Button was another early idea.

The modern IOT commerce model significantly broadens the scope of these conventional machine-to-machine communications by giving IOT devices the ability to operate across a variety of protocols and applications.

Said to represent a third wave in the evolution of retail commerce, IOT commerce is characterised by innovations such as digital voice assistants, which are destined to transform the buying experience as they facilitate the purchase of new products and services within seconds via simple voice commands.

Amazon’s voice-controlled Echo system and its Alexa virtual assistant are popular examples of this type of technology.

Complementing voice assistants are their close cousins, chatbots, which are among the leading tools now used by IOT commerce solutions developers in their quest for a more inclusive shopping experience for customers.

In the retail context, chatbots are artificial intelligence (AI) imbued virtual consultants and customer support assistants able to store significant amounts of customer data and refer to – and learn from − previous interactions to tailor responses and suitable recommendations. Their ability to understand languages and even interpret gestures makes them natural interfaces for modern IOT devices.

Chatbots like Apple Siri assist motor vehicle drivers to navigate, place calls and perform touchscreen operations without the physical touch.

Both voice assistants and chatbots – which can work from anywhere on a 24×7 basis − assist retailers to realise an important goal: marketing automation. This encompasses the automation of marketing and sales tasks, sales and service workflows, lead generation and customer support. It is central to the IOT commerce ethos.

IOT commerce also incorporates technologies such as virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), which are becoming popular as buying patterns, search trends and preferences are more effectively (and automatically) analysed and appropriate products are offered to customers by marketing “bots”.

VR is used to create artificial, simulated environments which provide an immersive experience through which shoppers virtually interact with a range of products.

And AR is central to smart mirror technology, which presents style suggestions to customers who are encouraged to virtually try on a tailored variety of clothes and accessories.

Against this backdrop, we can expect IOT commerce to pave the way for many complementary, new-generation technologies covering logistics, inventory and supply chain management. All will be geared to support the marketing efforts of retailers, while differentiating them from their competitors.

Autonomous vehicles, for instance, will create more efficient and cheaper methods of delivering parcels. Amazon already employs robots to optimise warehouse operations and makes use of drones for strategic pick-ups and deliveries.

With the expected rapid progress of IOT commerce, the number of IOT devices that currently interchange data via the internet – said to be around 30 billion − can be expected to grow appreciably.

However, organisations that embrace IOT commerce will face a significant hurdle which must be overcome: cyber security.

Internet and other network-connected IOT devices – smart appliances of any kind, tracking systems, actuators, headsets, as well as health monitoring and other sensors − are prime targets of fraudsters, as they are frequently connected to IT infrastructures via the cloud, giving hackers an entry into corporate networks.

In similar vein, data privacy is also a fundamental consideration. Organisations that offer personalisation as part of an IOT commerce experience must maintain the privacy of customers’ data. Failure to do so could result in harsh penalties.

That said, the future of IOT commerce is bright and limitless. According to popular author George Chang, “retail today is an exciting hotbed of innovation with emerging technologies. In many ways it's one of the most vibrant sectors to work in right now.”

Many early adopters of IOT commerce are taking advantage of advances in the industrial internet, increased modern network agility and integrated AI and AR, all of which serve to improve their marketing efforts and have the potential to cut operational costs going forward.

The trend will continue apace and IOT commerce could well become one of the most disruptive developments to impact the retail world since the arrival of the adding machine.

Paul Stuttard

Director, Duxbury Networking.

Paul Stuttard is a director of specialist distributor Duxbury Networking. Currently Cape-based, he has been with the company for 29 years and has extensive experience in the IT industry, particularly within the value-added distribution arena. His focus is on the formulation of future-oriented network optimisation strategies and business development objectives in collaboration with resellers and end-users in Southern Africa.

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