The Internet of Things and Shopping

By: Sanjay Khunger, SVP Technology M&A, Harland Clarke Holdings
Published Thursday, Jun 1, 2017

The Internet of Things and Shopping

The Internet of Things (IoT), though it sounds like a three-letter swear word, is, I’m quite certain, the brain-child of a member of an analyst community that revels in creating new and confusing acronyms for technology. But, alas, it is here to stay so it behooves us to educate ourselves.

IoT is quite simply the connecting together of intelligent “things,” which were previously disconnected and often dumb, into a network of sensing, communicating and cooperating objects. It is enabled by the confluence of three technologies: sensors, wireless connectivity and smart computing. IoT has the opportunity to have a widespread disruptive impact on almost all aspects of our day-to-day lives – including how we shop.

There is no doubt that the smartphone has revolutionized the shopping experience in the last decade. Most shoppers today use their smartphones for shopping activities like finding stores, making price comparisons, finding product promotions and placing orders. What IoT brings into the picture is the next level of awareness and intelligence, not just to smartphones but to all “things” on and around us.

Let me paint two personal shopping scenarios of the future that are actually not as far-fetched as they may initially sound.

Apparel Shopping of the Future: Connected Smart Mirror

The mirror in your home of the future is equipped with augmented reality, artificial intelligence with a natural language interface, and is connected to an internet clothing store. You stand in front of it and ask to try on pants and a tee shirt appropriate for a short summer walk during the upcoming weekend. The mirror augments your reflection with the options it selects. You provide and adjust other selection parameters like color, price range, material, etc. and virtually “try on” the clothing. Once you are satisfied with your selection, you place an order right from the mirror. The connected store has your payment details and fulfills the order for delivery to your doorstep.

Although mirrors like these are not technologically far off in the future, I suspect that we’ll see connected smart mirrors in malls and apparel stores first, until they are affordable and reliable.

Grocery Shopping of the Future: Connected Smart Appliances

I’m sure you’ve heard of Amazon Go, a new kind of store with no checkout required. Their technology automatically detects when products are taken from, or returned to, the shelves and keeps track of them in a virtual cart. An interesting innovation Amazon has introduced allows the consumer to just leave the store when shopping is complete. The system automatically totals the products in your cart, charges the Amazon account and sends a receipt. Clearly an innovative IoT use case – but let’s fast forward to a home in the future, with connected appliances, shelves and more. Your refrigerator detects that it is running low on milk and automatically places an order for milk of your preference at the store of your choice, as set up in your preferences. A few minutes later, the washing machine detects that it is running low on laundry detergent and similarly places an order for your preferred detergent.

The connected store, as mentioned in the smart mirror example, has your payment details and fulfills the order for delivery to your doorstep. The harder part is the delivery of these items from the doorstep to the appliance. Although it will initially be manual, I expect that autonomous vehicles, robots and, even, 3-D printing will make a significant impact here. But that’s a discussion for another time.

I’m certain we will not get to the above-painted future in one step, and am equally certain that this future is only a stepping stone to yet another future – one based on hyper-connectivity of sensing and smart “everything.” And, even though it will take a while, the future IoT will certainly be something to see.

The bigger question is: are we are ready?