IoT, Mobile & Connected Shoppers: Views from MIT

One of major obstacles to mobile commerce is less the technology and more the knowledge about the technology.

This point was driven home at an IoT (Internet of Things) conference I attended yesterday.

During a discussion of connected retail technology and customer engagement innovation at Connected Things 2015, run by the MIT Enterprise Forum and held at the MIT Media Lab in Cambridge, one of the speakers pointed out that many consumers have no idea where technology is embedded, what it does or even how to use it.

An earlier speaker had shown a video featuring an in-store mirror that is a touch-screen for shoppers to select clothing, see colors, have clothes sent to a dressing room and see associated accessories.

In the video, as in similar demos I’ve seen over the last few years, the happy shopper is touching the screen, picking clothes and walking out with a full shopping bag.

After the video, Alan Messer, vice president and head of advanced software technologies at Samsung, presented a different consumer reaction to the in-store shopping screen.

“If I went by a mirror screen in a store, I wouldn’t know it was an IP device,” said Messer. “How do you know it ties into the inventory system? How do I know?”

Messer pointed out that many consumers have no idea of the full capabilities of their phones and the phone does not naturally fit into some purchase activities.

“Consumers don’t naturally want to use their phone shopping for an oven, for example,” said Messer.

“With IoT, you have to think about retail in a different way,” said Messer. “It takes two devices to tango.”

The uphill climb is in a consumer naturally recognizing the right time in a shopping trip to tap their phone and what to tap into.

“Part of the solutions is getting consumers to realize they can do something with their phone,” Messer said. “The challenge is getting consumers to understand what is possible with the device.”

A great example of this is using price-checking apps in stores. While money can be saved on countless items, most people still don’t use the apps. Research also shows that many consumers don’t use their phones at all when they shop in a store.

Around the current state of IoT, with technology in things communicating with technology in other things, there still are kinks to be worked out.

“A problem is that most solutions require their own app or proprietary ecosystem,” said Messer. “What if you want to use our devices with others?”

An additional point about IoT came from Philip Gerskovich, senior vice president of new growth platforms at Zebra, the multi-billion dollar company that bought Motorola Solutions a while back.

“IoT should be bi-directional and real time,” said Gerskovich.

As in pretty much any event involving retail and mobile, the use of beacons comes up, and this conference was no exception.

Noting that consumer products currently are leading the way in IoT, Gerskovich pointed out that beacons can be used in a wide range of retail activities.

“Beacons are transformational,” said Gerskovich.

He had me at IoT.



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