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With technology investment booming, retailers are acknowledging that the adoption of digitisation can play a key role in meeting consumer demands whilst unlocking multiple business benefits.

With a predicted increase of 3.6 per cent over the next twelve months, and similar growth rates predicted over the next two years according to Gartner research, the retail sector is recognising it must evolve to meet consumer needs. Tight margins and the cost of overhaul has historically made the sector wary to embrace digitisation; however, increasing demands for a more efficient and effective service, alongside growing pressure to reduce waste and consider environmental impact, are resulting in retailers turning to IoT technology to start their digital transformation journey.

The Gartner study highlights that, in terms of digital spend in the retail space, software is one of the fastest growing technology categories. Customer behaviour analytics and interactive mobile applications are some of the tools providing deeper consumer insights that help to drive an enhanced custo­­­­mer-centric environment, and innovations such as pay-in-aisle and facial recognition are ensuring frictionless retail through a rapid, personalised service. Combined, these technological uptakes are enabling progression towards the retailer’s primary driver: an optimal customer experience.

However, while the uptake in customer-facing applications initiates an enhanced experience and demonstrates an encouraging technology investment increase for the industry, it should not undermine the importance of ‘behind the scenes’ technologies. Integrating transformative operational solutions into an organisation’s digital strategy can deliver multiple cross-business wins whilst concurrently ensuring an improved consumer experience.

In a food retail environment, an effective IoT solution can provide enhanced visibility and enable real-time monitoring and management of mission critical assets, achieved by layering IoT technology over existing infrastructure and systems to leverage the data that already exists in the environment. With enterprise-level implementation without costly infrastructural investment, these solutions break the barriers to IoT adoption by providing a scalable proposition with minimal downtime.

Automation, critical prevention and corrective action is enabled through enhanced estate visibility and governance, driving optimal temperature and asset performance. Progression from conservative cooling strategies that result in mass overcooling can be achieved through cross-organisational alignment, such as merchandising system integration, enabling sophisticated product-led cooling strategies. Initiatives like these enable individual refrigeration units to be dynamically cooled to the optimum temperature of the contained produce, reducing energy consumption and drastically improving the safety and quality of food.

By taking a produce-led approach to temperature management, quality and aesthetics are improved, flavour enhanced and increased shelf life achieved – aspects that enrich the customer experience and positively impact basket size and return business.

However, IoT technology delivers more than improved food quality alone. By ensuring the aesthetic, safety and longevity, the volume of food being unnecessarily discarded by retailers and consumers can be drastically reduced; it is estimated that increasing the shelf-life of a product by just one day could result in avoidable waste being reduced by 5 per cent. In addition, with an IoT enabled, highly automated, efficient store with dynamic monitoring and management of HVAC and lighting assets, the staff are available to provide customers with the service they deserve rather than spending time de-merchandising faulty cases or wiping up melted ice, meaning the customer in-store experience is transformed.

Further, the enhanced temperature management will prevent unnecessary refrigeration over-chill, mitigating excessive energy consumption, reducing costs to retailers whilst also reducing their environmental footprint, generating a more sustainable and conscious store. With 71 per cent of consumers stating they consider the impacts of their choice of food retailers and products, this progression is paramount to ensure growing consumer concerns are met.