Internet of Things

Is Employee-Facing IoT Omnichannel’s Silver Bullet?

IoT Comes In Store

While the pace of innovation in retail has given more than a few brands whiplash over the years, there’s no doubt that the industry is still in something of a transition period as far as the nature of online ordering and omnichannel support are concerned. There are the overachievers and the ones playing catch-up scattered all over the place, but what’s for certain is that the entire industry is lurching toward a point where only the competent in both in-store and online sales will be allowed to survive.

How fortunate, then, that the Internet of Things is emerging as a top contender to help struggling retailers bridge the divide between where they are and where they need to be with in-store omnicommerce.

The most encouraging news on that front comes from The Container Store, which announced on Tuesday (June 14) that it was outfitting most of its in-store retail staff with IoT communicators that would allow them to operate with maximum efficiency without being tied down to a computer screen or mobile dashboard. Courtesy of wearables developer Theatro, brick-and-mortar associates will be able to speak into a credit card-sized device for real-time, Amazon Echo-esque answers to questions on remaining inventory and the status of customer orders, and walkie talkie-style, point-to-point communication is also possible.

By the end of July, 3,000 associates in 70 of The Container Store’s 80 brick-and-mortar locations will be working with Theatro’s IoT devices, and John Thrailkill, EVP of IT and business development, knows a helping hand when he sees one.

“At The Container Store, we are constantly looking for innovative solutions to not only enhance our customers’ experience but also help our employees work even more efficiently,” Thrailkill said in a statement. “The wearable gives all employees immediate access to store resources, such as inventory availability and status of pickup orders, via a simple conversational voice user interface, providing us less wait time for customers and better staff productivity all around. Employees can use the wearable’s apps to have one-to-one conversations, share expertise and product information, support one another and guide new teammates, all while remaining heads-up and hands-free.”

It’s all part of an industry-wide pivot from IoT as an abstract concept to IoT as something that can and should belong in the tangible, physical world doing tangible, physical good. Target understands the shift, as it’s already begun outfitting some stores with what it calls its “Connected Living” store-within-a-store format, but Target of all retailers should appreciate the need for a smoother link between the worlds of online commerce and in-store fulfillment. It’s the most common thing in the world for data transmitted across this divide to get muddled in the process and result in missing inventory, frustrated customers and stressed employees, as SVP of Supply Chain Transformation Karl Bracken confessed when Target was struggling to overhaul its own omnichannel integrations without the help of IoT.

“The ‘item not found’ rate was higher than projected,” Bracken told Internet Retailer. “Some stores had to cancel up to 50 percent of online orders because they couldn’t find a product in the store.”

Interventions like that which The Container Store is throwing its lot in with won’t immediately straighten out the kinks in supply chains that bleed data and lead to inaccurate inventory, but they do accomplish one significant goal: By allowing in-store employees a more transparent and intuitive way to interact with the data at the core of all operations, those associates are better able to handle whatever problems arise as a result.

It’s a transitionary step between where B&M retailers are and where they need to be in omnichanel efficiency to stay competitive, but every journey of a thousand miles starts with a single wearable-tracked step.


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