Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

IoT opportunities in retail and the case for cellular connectivity

By Knud Kegel, VP Product, EMnify

The retail industry and the Internet of Things (IoT) go back a long way together. It’s been nearly 25
years since technology pioneer and innovator, Kevin Ashton, introduced the IoT concept while
describing the possibilities of linking P&G’s RFID system to the internet. Since then, IoT has been
revolutionising RFID, and a far wider range of interconnected technologies to boot.
Now, retailers can harness the IoT in a myriad of ways. Retail strategists are enhancing the customer
experience, smoothing transactions, monitoring inventories and generally adding value to the
bottom line. Where there’s a connected device, there’s always an IoT opportunity.
Yet bricks and mortar retail has its own set of challenges, lying in wait to diminish the IoT
opportunity. Most of the time, these setbacks stem from one of these three facets of retail:

● Retail operations can take place in a mixture of outdoor, indoor and mobile environments,
which many IoT connectivity solutions aren’t suited for.
● Customer data is highly sensitive, and some of the worst IoT security breaches have
occurred in the retail industry.
● Large retail operations are powered by vast amounts of data, and this requires robust
networks to ensure a consistent service.

The great news is that all these problems will go away when you choose a cellular connectivity
solution. It’s one of the most crucial decisions a retailer can make when embarking on the IoT
journey. Cellular connectivity is a cloud-native solution, which delivers a raft of benefits to retailers,
including easier, highly reliable low-latency connections, bandwidth demand management, and a
lower cost.

All this means that retailers will enjoy improved operational efficiencies. That’s because cloud-native
connectivity makes it easier to establish connections between devices, applications and systems,
wherever they are deployed. And by using global IoT SIM cards, a retailer’s devices have access to
secure, encrypted network connections anywhere in the world. Combine that with Cloud Connect or
IPSec solutions, and retailers can establish their own VPNs to keep sensitive data safe and secure.

Use cases for IoT in retail
Now we’ve got the connectivity covered, there are many real benefits to deploying an IoT
infrastructure at retail. Connected devices allow repetitive tasks to be automated, which accelerates
performance and reduces costs. They can simplify data management and ensure its security. They
are also ideal for detecting irregularities, and can even be used to take corrective action. Let’s
explore just a few of the ways that IoT is solving problems in retail today.
Inventory management

Thanks to Kevin Ashton’s vision in the 1990s, inventory management was the first application for IoT
in retail. Now, the IoT landscape has evolved to include a wide range of potential opportunities for
inventory management.
Today’s retailers can combine RFIDs with IoT sensors to track product data. This can cover an almost
inexhaustible array of information, including expiry dates, compliance requirements, stock levels,
location, demand level and more. Retailers can track product shipments and get real-time insights
into their supply chain, allowing them to manage resources more efficiently.

PoS terminals
Point of sale systems are a critical component of every retail business, particularly in the new post-
COVID world, and they rely heavily on connectivity. Whether customers are using a vending
machine, a self-serve checkout or a kiosk, they expect the experience to be smooth, simple and
IoT deployment enables retailers to connect these self-service devices to the cloud. And by using
carrier-agnostic IoT SIM cards, end points are able to connect to the best signal available, wherever
the device is located, routing data through the nearest cloud server to decrease latency and improve
performance. Each transaction can send data in real-time, updating inventory information and sales
figures. This ensures stock levels are up to date, information is accurate and customers receive the
levels of service that they demand.

In-store traffic analytics
Identifying congestion, optimising store layouts and reducing waiting times are some of the
fundamental building blocks of successful bricks and mortar retail operations. Consumers are
already accustomed to being monitored, they know cameras are located throughout stores. It’s not
a big leap to introduce IoT sensors, Light Detection and Ranging (LiDaR) strips and blurred vision
These can detect the number of people queuing in line, allowing retailers to evaluate wait times for
checkouts and take measures to reduce the busiest lines. Sensors can also be used to track the flow
of customers through the store, mapping the most common paths and identifying where customers
linger, then overlaying this data onto merchandising opportunities.

Putting it all together
All the options above deliver advantages to any retail establishment, and they need to be built
around a robust and reliable digital network. Yet retail isn’t about machines. It’s about combining
people with technology to deliver an enhanced customer experience. And the IoT allows for this,
connecting products, devices, store layout, customer flow and team members, all under one
network. As a result, a lot rides on that network, its coverage and its connectivity type. That’s why
cellular IoT connectivity should be on your list of must-have IoT components.