Retail industry undergoes transformation with the IoT

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We’re writing today our shopping list for the future.

Until the 1950s, most people shopped in small markets. They told a clerk what they wanted, and the clerk selected goods from the shelves or from the little stock at the back of the store. On June 26, 1974, at a Marsh chain supermarket in Troy, Ohio, a $0.67 sale changed that story forever. The UPC (Universal Product Code), better known by us as the bar code, was created and tested, along with the scanners that transformed the retail industry and our consumer habits. In the 1970s, department stores, supermarkets and eventually shopping centers appeared in big cities.

This innovation revolutionized the supply chain. It is considered so important that the $0.67 Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit box—­­the first product to be sold using its bar code—is still in the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History in Washington, DC.

Big technology shifts in recent retail history

In the last couple of years, we’ve seen technology breaking standards and behaviors in many areas. After more than 40 years of UPC and scanners dominating retail logistics, will their monopoly finally come to an end? What will our purchases be like in another 10 or 15 years?

The consumer will play a significant role in shaping future retail trends. The internet has eliminated the need for local-only shopping and brought forth purchase options and dealers not previously available. While we, consumers, demand price transparency and quality, convenience has also become a major factor in our buying decisions.

Large chain stores and supermarkets have lost ground, and the old neighborhood market and specialty shops are reappearing to meet the needs of demanding consumers. Therefore, retailers are preparing to tailor the shopping experience to the ever-changing needs of each person. Coupled with data from online transactions,  digital sensors and devices will make our buying experience far more engaging and personalized. With this, virtual suggestions will be more accurate and effective.

What to expect in the future of retail

Robotization and the Internet of Things (IoT) will become more central to many retail processes, such as inventory, shelf stocking and others. The check-out, for example, will be done remotely as we leave the store with our goods. No more scanning each product, one by one, at the cash registers. Chips in the packaging of the products will be read by sensors at the store exits, which will send a signal to applications in our cell phones to process the payment. It will be the end of long check-out lines. See Figure 1.

iot transforming retail

Figure 1. Source: Slideshare:  The New Retail Revolution: Connected Store


What about our repetitive monthly and weekly purchases? These items will be delivered automatically, by trucks without drivers, or drones. Appliances, shelves, smart packaging and signature convenience services will be able to trigger orders as soon as product reaches a lower level in stock.

Online sales that are now at 10 percent globally will increase to 40 percent or more of total retail sales in 2027, according to data from the World Economic Forum.

3D printers will enable stores to create their products on demand, which will bring numerous new and small businesses to the market. In addition, many products could be printed locally, reducing transportation, warehousing and logistics costs.

Game technology and virtual reality will profoundly transform and broaden our shopping experiences at home or in stores. Consumers will be able to explore products in a virtual inventory before purchasing them.

There’s so much to look forward to!

What’s next in the transformation of retail?

No doubt, it will be exciting to see what is next in the retail industry. After decades of being displayed alone at the Museum of American History, that $0.67 box of Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit just might get some company. And who knows what museum explorers might ask those 3D printers or virtual reality glasses to produce!

Check out this video to learn more about the Internet of Things in retail:

Check out the IoT Solution Zone for Stores for more detail on solutions for Retailers.




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Aline Riquelme

Very interesting, make me think how fast the world as we know is changing and how fortunate our generation are to testify such a huge change. Make me question how ready we are to all this new possibilities and how much we are responsible for how to pass this transformation for the past and future generation. One thing is right: a lot of possibities to choose !



Hi Renata, this is all very interesting and relates to ideas and items that many of us are aware of, however, I know what Watson is doing here, please tell me what is IBM systems doing in this area? As lab services I expect you to be able to tell me what Z, POWER, or storage is doing in this space rather than Watson.

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