How Your E-Commerce Business Can Prepare for IoT

The world of e-commerce and online shopping has changed considerably even just over the last few years. A market that was once rich with opportunity and open for the taking is now incredibly competitive. In fact, you could argue e-commerce now mirrors that of the brick-and-mortar store. Online retailers and shops must strive to stand out from the competition in new, innovative ways.

That’s the key, isn’t it? Standing out in a sea of nearly identical businesses or solutions can be tricky. What helps you stay relevant to the average consumer?

Technology is the solution, allowing brands to interact and engage through stronger, more connected relationships. Mobile technologies especially have made it so you can reach a person anytime, anywhere. Where once you’d have to wait for the customers to seek you out, you can now do exactly the opposite, thanks to text and push notifications, mobile alerts and in-app experiences.

At the forefront of this is IoT, or the Internet of Things.

Welcome to the Connected Device Era

The IoT is a buzzphrase used to denote the variety of devices that now have access to the internet. Connected, smart functionality is now available across many platforms where it never existed in the past. This includes things like smart appliances and TVs, smart vehicles, smart home devices, and even wearables and clothing.

They are considered to be connected because of how they handle data collection and sharing. More specifically, these devices transmit and receive data via an open internet connection — usually facilitated via Wi-Fi. In some cases, this might also mean an open connection with mobile devices. Smart lightbulbs and smart home tech can be controlled entirely from mobile via a companion app.

In addition to providing a tremendous benefit to consumers, they also provide growth opportunities for brands and businesses. It’s a new channel for communicating and interacting with customers and a new series of insights and metrics to dig deeper into consumer behavior.

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How IoT Will Impact E-Commerce

It is estimated that IoT will account for up to $11 trillion in annual savings and revenue for businesses by 2025, increasing profits by 21 percent through 2022. So, we can already see it’s going to have a profound impact on the world at large, particularly in business environments.

Across the board, IoT will allow for more accurate and transparent processes within a business. Consider its use in a warehouse for processing and order fulfillment, for instance. Robots and smart sensors can be used to automate nearly the entire system, boosting efficiency, lowering operating costs and providing better customer experiences. Beyond that, employees and management can see in real-time what’s happening with any of the aforementioned processes. Want to know where a certain vehicle in your fleet is? Check on its location right then and there. Want to know how long a package is taking to ship, or where it might have ended up? That’s also possible with the right IoT sensors.

IoT has a role to play in inventory and warehouse management, supply chain monitoring and even customer experience. Customer experiences can be improved thanks to more accurate insights and information alone, as data holds the key to truly understanding public sentiment. At the same time, the technology can be leveraged more directly to improve experiences. Product packaging sensors used to track the location of certain items could help a business deliver real-time updates on shipping, for instance.

Before any of this can happen, businesses must learn to leverage the technology.

How to Prepare for IoT

Step one is to identify the areas where IoT and connected technologies might be useful for your business. Since every organization is different, this is something you’ll need to address with internal teams and possibly advisors.

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Some of the common uses for IoT in e-commerce include:

  • Shipping and processing
  • Order fulfillment
  • Customer acquisition
  • Inventory control
  • Fleet or transport tracking
  • Manufacturing and development

Understanding where you’re going to deploy the technology helps discern how and where it will be used. For inventory tracking and order fulfillment, for example, you might embed a variety of sensors in product packaging.

Who Will Benefit?

As with most things in a business, there are forward-facing opportunities and more backend ones. Therefore, it’s important to understand who will benefit from the technology you’re implementing. In some cases, there may be several parties that benefit — shipping and processing can help both employees and customers.

When it comes time to deal with the data collected and processed from said devices, that’s where the “who” really matters. This also determines whether you implement a forward-facing data solution or not.

Choosing the Right Devices

Eventually, you’ll need to decide what kind of devices or sensors you’re going to be using. One of the most common wireless protocols is Wi-Fi, but Bluetooth is also common — albeit limited in coverage. This is also the time to consider whether you need more advanced features like GPS and location tracking.

In an enterprise setting, this is more about researching and choosing a provider of said equipment. You want one that will work directly with you and your team to find an appropriate system for your business.

Develop an Information Funnel

IoT and connected devices are constantly reporting data that can be used to build reliable profiles of your customers and audience. Ultimately, this will help improve decision-making processes, but for that to happen, you must have an information funnel in place.

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What this means is developing a system for not just collecting and organizing all that data, but also extracting actionable intelligence from it. Obviously, part of the solution is to employ the help of marketing and analytics tools. You’ll also need to incorporate a proper communication system that allows for said information to be passed on to decision-makers in a more accessible format.

Test First, Implement Later

It’s important to remember that with new technologies and systems, you don’t have to roll everything out instantly and permanently. It’s smarter to take your time so you can test or gauge how a system is going to work.

If you’re planning on rolling out product-tracking support, you would enable it for a couple of trial runs before ordering all-new packaging and hardware. While this may seem like a no-brainer, it’s an element of change that even the biggest and most successful businesses sometimes overlook.

Convenience and Efficiency Are King

In the end, what many of these technologies and solutions provide — both to businesses and consumers alike — is added convenience and efficiency. Through the deployment of advanced IoT sensors and reporting tools, a business can ensure that teams know, in real-time, what is happening with a particular process or system. In today’s world — where customers want instant, on-demand experiences — higher levels of transparency are always beneficial.

Achieving an incredible ROI rate is the simple matter of how far you’re willing to go and how much technology you’re willing to implement. In a manner of speaking, the more, the better.

Bio: Nathan Sykes writes about the latest in technology on his blog. To read more posts by Nathan, follow him on Twitter @nathansykestech.

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