Sensor technology helps physical compete with online

JD.com warehouse
Sensor technology helps to bring a greater understanding of what’s in stock, for both consumers and sales associates.

If retailers are going to compete with Amazon, they need to adapt their product sensor technology in order to weave their stock and inventory information. This technology is vital to improving real-time accuracy for quick product replenishments that change with the specific seasons and happenings of individual store locations, according to Tim Brooks, big data principal consultant at World Wide Technology (WWT).

In addition, Brooks says that sensor technology improves inventory losses and reduces misplaced items

In this day and age, it’s not uncommon to see shoppers research an item online, then go to the physical store to try it out and make a final decision. Using smart stock inventory, retailers can track what products people are evaluating on the internet in a particular region, then make sure those products are locally available at a competitive price. This increases the likelihood of a purchase happening in-store rather than with an online competitor. 

While Brooks says not all items need a sensor, it does help to bring a greater understanding of what’s in stock for both consumers and sales associates. 

“Then we understand which items were considered and not purchased,” Brooks told FierceRetail. “In the online world, if we look at something, that’s a page with data connected to it so we know if it goes to a cart or is discarded, etc. But in the real world, we don’t see what happens on the shelves. By integrating technology into that physical experience, we see what is most relevant to customers.” 

Brooks does admit that sensor technology has its challenges. For many, it’s changing the culture of the retailer that is risk-adverse. 

“But the real risk is to stay in the same place,” he said. “In retail today, innovation is well defined and measurable.” 

Many retailers are hesitating due to the scale of the project. First, it requires getting data from all of a brands’ warehouses and connecting it with all of the physical stores. 

“But we’re one of the few companies across Europe and North American that can get it done to scale,” Brooks said. While a lot of retailers have a “wait and see” attitude about new technology, this ultimately puts these brands in a perpetual waiting game. 

“If you think you have operating advantage and can increase margins and revenues, you can try it in a small way,” Brooks said. “And if you get results and learn what you did well, you can try again."

When it comes to getting all of the staff on board for using the new sensor technology, Brooks says that the single most important factor is getting the CEO’s buy-in and then designating a technology employee to be personally involved in setting the strategy and timelines for execution. He stresses that motivation is what will get an initiative going. 

This transformation is just one of many steps in improving the customer experience. And while some employees may worry that their jobs are being threatened, the technology is actually there to help associates by freeing up their time to spend with the customers. 

“It amounts to 'what part of the job can I do seamlessly so that I can spend more time with the customers, making eye contact,'” Brooks noted. 

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