The Internet of Things: not about the things

By the end of this year there’ll be somewhere in order of 5 billion connected devices on the planet, and the current prediction is 25b in 2020; 3 devices for everyone on earth. And that’s not including smartphones. Think about that for a moment. What we’re talking about is billions of connected devices that, if not yet super intelligent, are at least a little bit smart, and can be used to collect and return a wide range of information for the benefit of all (ideally)

The Internet of Things isn't Skynet. Yet.

It’s not Skynet. Yet.

Despite the recent explosion in the number and kinds of connected devices (watches, fitness trackers, thermostats, garden sprinklers, locks, cars, lightbulbs…) human intervention is still required - differing standards mean not all Things can communicate with each other, and someone’s got to interpret the data and make the clever decisions. (However experts predict future generations of the devices in the IoT will be more intelligent and self-governing, so make of that what you will).

It’s kind of a big deal for retailers

67% of retailers Forrester surveyed had already implemented the IoT, and 96% of respondents were willing to make the changes necessary to adopt IoT technology, with real-time locating, mobile and barcodes leading the way. That’s almost 100% of retailers who are gearing up to collect contextual data from a bunch of connected devices and personalize the shopping experience:

  • Installing beacons and push hyper-relevant promotions to people as they get within range.
  • Using RFID to track product movement around the store; when it leaves the shelves, where it goes next, how long it takes to get to the checkout and the friends it picks up on the way.
  • Installing smart displays to automagically show different content depending on which RFID or smartphone wanders past (or flings content to it), and measuring which content is more effective based on customer interactions.
  • Flicking out notifications directing people who are stuck in queue to the checkout that’s just opened, or gently hinting they should check out an offer rather than waiting.
  • Or getting rid of queues entirely; getting mobile, getting out amongst it and letting people check out in the busiest areas of the store (naturally you know where those areas are - you’ve seen the heat map).

Basically we’re living in the future.

It’s all about the data

The entire point of so many connected devices is to collect a ridiculous amount of data, which you then do useful stuff with.

Step 1. Connect ALL the Things.

Step 2. Collect ALL the data.

Step 3. Use ALL the data.*

Step 4. Profit.

*Well, enough of it to generate actionable insights

Collecting historical data isn’t enough; to be useful you need to combine transactional data with the live, contextual information you collect from all those connected devices: current location, real-time behavior, social interactions and even what the weather’s like. If you do it right, you’ll have massive amounts of information you can use for limitless customization - it’s called big data for a reason – but you do need a way to sort the useful stuff from the rest.

With big data comes great responsibility

Privacy is still a big concern with the Internet of Things, even if people choose to opt in. A study by the Economist Intelligence Unit found that while shoppers appreciate customized product recommendations, 33% are very concerned about how closely their personal information is held by marketers. Offer too many or irrelevant messages – or even worse, pass that data on - and you’ll lose their good will and risk them disconnecting permanently. The key is doing useful things with the data you’ve been entrusted with; if people are getting a good return on their information, then they’re unlikely to get upset about you collecting and using it.