If you are a retailer recovering from the shock of COVID-19, you still face a further formidable challenge. As lockdowns ease, how can you achieve smart reopening? How can you best use accumulated data and innovative technology to deliver stores that are safe for both customers and employees, while also achieving financial success in today’s ‘new reality’? And, just as importantly, how can you keep an influx of new technologies cost-effective, maintainable, and readily adaptable to rapidly-changing circumstances?

Retailers cannot simply continue as previously. COVID-19 changed consumer behaviour, and brands must adjust accordingly. Significantly, new behaviours are likely here to stay. Consumers report high intention to continue using buy online, pick up in-store (BOPIS) (56 per cent) and grocery delivery (45 per cent) after the pandemic[i].

Smart retailers are evolving how they evaluate stores and optimise their network. Stores should not be considered simply as standalone physical units, but rather as part of a holistic network in which bricks-and-mortar and online activities complement one another in an omnichannel environment. If a store is closed, will there be a loss in online sales? If one is added, what is the halo effect on online penetration?

Responsive retail innovation

The store of the future is viewed as a core component of an omnichannel journey. It is important to gain an in-depth and up-to-date understanding of customer preferences and post-COVID expectations; this will allow you to change your store layouts and customer experiences accordingly.

Smart retailers are moving from surveys to near-real-time tracking of consumer trends and behaviour shifts to inform decisions. With the rise of IoT, you will have even more dynamic data, from which you can extract immediate insights. Social media can also support an omnichannel strategy, as retailers can both monitor trends and send push notifications of personalised offers.

In this shifted environment, IoT technology can help you in three ways:

• by helping to adapt and improve the customer experience

• by gathering real-time data about shopper behaviour, and

• by protecting customers and staff from COVID risks.

Below, we look at some specific IoT technologies that fulfil these objectives, and then at a practical approach that can bring time, cost- and space-saving benefits to their implementation.

In-store IoT technologies

Occupancy has become an essential topic because of the need to control the number of people in a shop and maintain social distancing. Footfall counters can provide a 99.9 per cent accurate occupancyindication[ii]; this can be displayed in real-time to staff and to door queues, and also sent to staff tablets, head office, or to a website to show peak times to potential shoppers. Combined with people analytics, such sensors can also facilitate one-in-one-out enforcement policies.

Sensors can also provide location data, which can become increasingly accurate through machine learning. This technology can inform wayfinding and location-based lighting applications to provide better customer experiences while reducing operating costs by eliminating unnecessary illumination. It can also be used for contact tracing, possibly alongside elevated skin temperature (EST) detection. Additionally, disinfectant UV lighting can now be deployed.

Further information on people trends can be gained by using WiFi smartphone detection sensors. Shoppers can be given a safer, more efficient shopping experience through the use of smart parking sensors.

The practicalities of implementation

IoT technology can help you improve customer experiences, save costs, learn about shopper behaviour and cope with the COVID disruption. However, installing multiple systems creates new challenges related to installing lights and sensors, powering them, and establishing communications. This is exacerbated if many systems are needed simultaneously, or a fast installation is needed for a new promotion.

However, suppliers are responding to these growing IoT-based challenges with some innovative solutions. For example, it is possible to use low-voltage bus bar systems both to distribute power and provide mounting points for the various IoT sensors, lights, and other actuators. Such approaches can offer rapid installation, modification, and extension; their unified environment can also simplify the management and maintenance of multiple systems. Your in-store teams will appreciate these features to enable the set-up of an ambitious new promotional showcase at short notice

Once installed, the IoT devices must be connected into a wireless network that allows two-way communications with a local edge server: commands for luminaires and other output devices, and feedback from sensors. Network technologies such as Bluetooth Mesh, Thread and DALI (particularly for lighting) are widely available to facilitate this, and offer multi-vendor support. Other attractions of Bluetooth Mesh include self-healing by using multiple paths, power efficiency, and high security through multi-level encryption.

While absorbing the impact of COVID and its aftermath, retailers will welcome any development that facilitates an agile response to rapidly-changing circumstances, together with longer-term futureproofing.

Please visit our Retail Solutions page to find out how you can innovation technology to optimise your smart opening strategy.

[i] https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/retail/our-insights/adapting-to-the-next-normal-in-retail-the-customer-experience-imperative

[ii] https://www.manxtechgroup.com/how-iot-technology-can-help-the-retail-trade-in-a-post-covid-19-era/

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