IoT: Who's Minding the Store?

With Walmart, Target, Walgreens, The Home Depot, CVS and other leading national chains experimenting with beacon-based shopper communication, it looks as if retailers are genuinely ready and willing to take control of bringing The Internet of Things into the store environment.

That so many retailers are willing to invest in IoT capabilities is a huge step in the right direction. It wasn't so long ago that paranoid retailers refused to even provide shoppers with WiFi within their walls. And don't forget that the main reason digital signage or in-store TV has never scaled is because very few retailers ever wanted to foot those bills.

The landscape is different now, however, because traditional retailers are desperately scrambling to remain relevant for digitally savvy shoppers who no longer need to visit physical stores to buy what they need. In-store technology used to be a potential way to gain competitive advantage. Now, it's more like a requirement for survival.

But what we need are IoT initiatives that build a value-producing, experience-enhancing store environment, not just another marketing channel for delivering yet more offers. You know that clichéd clip from Minority Report in which Tom Cruise gets bombarded with personalized digital ads as he walks through the mall? Nobody wants that to ever happen — least of all the shopper.

So who's better suited to be the IoT traffic cop, the one who'll set the ground rules for the in-store IoT experience, than retailers themselves? They've literally got the keys to the store, along with the data, to understand exactly what shoppers might or might not want.

Third-party solution providers bring a lot to the table, and are appealing to brand marketers because they offer coverage across retailers — and, therefore, access to cross-retailer data. They’re also  easier, faster and more flexible to work with than your average retailer. However, they're not retailers, so it can be difficult for a brand to align third-party activity with the rest of an in-store plan — especially if the retailer thinks it might divert attention (or dollars) away from its own efforts.

And then there are brand marketers. The idea of calling all the shots without being dependent on retailer or third-party limitations is certainly tantalizing, and unlimited access to all the data is even more desirable. But brands or even manufacturers aren't likely to achieve shopper scale on their own — and how many one-off brand offers can a shopper withstand as she navigates while navigating the aisle before she runs screaming from the store?

As for agencies, they should keep doing what they always do: monitor trends, evaluate options, make recommendations and find the most effective way to leverage these new tools. Be the facilitator who makes sure these other three parties are getting everything right.

So, if retailers are ready and willing to take charge of IoT inside the store, then that is the best option for everyone That assumes that retailers are also able to do it. Second tier  chains, for example, might need to rely on brands and third-party providers to do more of the work. That means collaborating to ensure that messages are relevant, that subsequent data is mined effectively and also that IoT tools won't merely be used as another way to collect promotional dollars.

Regardless of who leads the way, it's the responsibility of everyone — brand, retailer, agency and third-party provider — to ensure that these technologies truly enhance the store experience and deliver value to shoppers. Because when you get right down to it, that's who's really in charge here.

If shoppers don't like what we give them, nothing else will matter. 

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