Smart Supermarkets: How IoT Is Shaping the Future of Retail

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Supermarkets are an essential service, especially during COVID-19. They are a cornerstone of consumer culture, despite the increasing popularity of online food sources. In fact, over the last few months, drastic shifts in consumer behavior have actually seen an increase in grocery store visits. While these can be attributed to people stocking up on essentials, it clearly demonstrates that supermarkets are an important part of our lives. And they’re beginning to adapt to modern technology.

How the Internet of Things is Creating Smart Supermarkets  

The increase in traffic in supermarkets over recent weeks presents two important challenges. The first is that supermarkets need to ensure they have adequate stock levels when it comes to the most-needed items. The second challenge is the need to cut down on person-to-person interactions once a customer steps into the supermarket. The Internet of Things or IoT presents a viable solution to both these challenges, including several others as well. Thanks to an uptick in IT staffing, many supermarkets have network engineers and IT personnel on the payroll.

Here’s how IoT is transforming supermarkets:

  1. The Idea of A Smart Supermarket
  2. The Visualization of Smart Shelves
  3. Using Smart Shopping Carts
  4. Switching To Contactless Operations

Let’s take a closer look at these areas below.

The Idea of a Smart Supermarket

Many people have heard of the concept of smart homes in relation to IoT devices. These homes consist of smart devices like doorbells, thermostats, and lights connected over a wireless network. These devices communicate with each other and help make the home better. A smart supermarket is much the same but on a much larger scale. They use IoT devices to gather information, which is then relayed to a digital platform, helping store owners make better decisions.

In layman terms, IoT in supermarkets means attaching sensors to items or services being used the most in the store. This is not exactly new, but with better technology available, IoT devices are much cheaper and easily available. The challenge for supermarkets is not the capital expenditure, but how to map out customers and their behavior effectively. This means figuring out the best way to send customers deals in the store, influencing their buying decisions, or offering personalized promotions.

At the store scale, success is determined by specific applications, instead of general adoption, of IoT. This calls for the use of contactless paying options, smart shelves, smart carts, and of course, the platform needed to support them. Read on more about these applications of IoT in supermarkets below.

The Visualization of Smart Shelves

Electronic shelving labels in 1992 were the first manifestation of smart shelves. Thanks to modern technology that can both detect shelf stock and display prices and labels, smart shelves are making a comeback. These devices also allow you to map your shopper’s physical journey in the store to help with better merchandising and sales.

But that’s just the basics. These labels allow you to play around with inventory visibility as well as forecasting demand. If a supermarket is constantly running out of things like toilet paper or hand sanitizer, smart shelves can help them identify demand trends and plan their procurement accordingly.

Move a step beyond shelves to equipment that also holds and displays products, like a refrigerator. A standard refrigerator is a simple machine that you can turn on and off, but an IoT supported refrigerator is so much more. It can alert you when repairs or maintenance are needed. It can learn to power on and off according to store hours. It can even detect when the products they contain are going bad.    

Using Smart Shopping Carts

When it comes to retail, shopping carts are a standard fixture, and they have a big role to play in smart retail as well. One of the best ways to increase customer volume and improve in-store safety these days is to reduce the interaction between the customer and staff. Certain smart carts can incorporate the scanning and checkout functions into the cart itself. That means customers can pay for items as they shop, and then simply leave when they are done, without having to interact with the staff.

Switching to Contactless Operations

If you’ve spent time in the supermarket retail business, you already know the profit margins are not huge. Attaining even a 2 to 3 percent profit can be a challenge. So reducing your costs to a minimum makes sense. Cashierless operations speed up shopping operations, but they can be ineffective if they don’t allow the store to monitor and manage assets.

Amazon Go is an interesting practical concept of an IoT supermarket. It uses cameras and sensors to detect the items a shopper picks up, then automatically charges them when they leave the store. Cashierless operations haven’t caught on in the mainstream yet. The number of devices needed to monitor and manage products is one of the restraints. Laying off employees is another concern, with employment services like local marketing staffing agencies already flooded with applicants. On the other hand, contactless operations reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission between customers and staff. Opting for a cashier-less store can be a tough but essential decision given the times.