NATIONAL REPORT — Commonly referred to by its shorthand IoT, the Internet of Things is a shorthand in and of itself — a catchall term for connecting devices to the internet that, in turn, connect with each other.
As both a concept and a practice, IoT has long been making headway in the retail space and is becoming increasingly important for convenience and fuel retailers to understand and use to their advantage.
Connectivity through IoT makes it possible for retailers to more efficiently manage their sites, from revenue and security to fuel supply chain and food safety. It can provide real-time data, save energy, improve profitability and provide for a better customer experience.
“The biggest threats to a c-store’s profitability are downtime and inefficiency,” Veeder-Root President Andrew Robinson told Convenience Store News. “In both cases, a connected system improves your visibility to operation status and allows that information to be routed quickly to individuals responsible for the overall health and maintenance of the facility.”
Robinson added, “The IoT-empowered retailer will have additional time to reinvest in the business and make better decisions, leading to incremental revenues and growth.”
Ray Clopton, CEO of loyalty rewards program company Wilbur, believes IoT provides the vital capability of offering customers the personalization they’ve come to not only want, but expect.
“The most important application of IoT for retailers, in an ideal world, is the ability to deliver personalized customer experiences that resonate with visitors and contextualize sales messages based on whether they are first- or long-time customers,” said Clopton.
However, he cautions retailers against taking the possibilities of IoT too far, which could drive away the customers they want frequenting their stores.
“It is equally important that retailers do not inadvertently create a world where customers feel like they are walking into a version of Aldous Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’ or Black Mirror’s ‘Fifteen Million Merits’ when they enter the online or brick-and-mortar store. Where everywhere they turn, they are attacked by inescapable sales messages telling them what to do, buy or consume,” Clopton warned.
While being mindful of pushing customers too far into the future, new developments in the convenience channel demand a closer look at connectivity. Among them is the rising relevance of connected cars. These vehicles, through IoT, provide another touchpoint for retailers to make the fueling experience better for customers and encourage them to make in-store purchases.
Is There a Downside?
With all of this added technology in-store and on the forecourt, there comes with it increased security concerns. There is the potential downside of data breaches, which could affect both the business and the customer.
“Adding more internet connected devices is like adding more doors to your house — doors that you might forget to lock,” said Wilbur’s Clopton. “IoT hacks pose a wide range of security threats because of their interconnected and dual nature. Since the devices serve an ‘offline’ purpose, but are also connected to the internet, they can be compromised without impacting their original purpose, which makes the compromise much harder — if not impossible — to spot.”
So, as with anything, with the great power of IoT, there also comes a great responsibility. Yet if the current state of technology in retail is anything to go by, retailers should be eager to take on the responsibility for the possibilities the power creates.
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