Are networks about to become retailers’ next big battleground?

Retailers are always looking for the ‘next big thing’ to help them march ahead of their competition. Companies have gone (and are still going) head to head on many emerging trends in recent years – omnichannel, mobile commerce, in-store technology, to name a few – and it seems networks could be the next competitive battleground.

This insight comes from IDC senior research analyst Miya Knights, who spoke about the Internet of Things (IoT) at this month’s Retail Business Technology Expo (RBTE).

For those of you not familiar with the Internet of Things, it’s defined as ‘a proposed development of the Internet in which everyday objects have network connectivity, allowing them to send and receive data’.

Already we’re seeing retailers experimenting with IoT capabilities. Electronics firm Darty is installing technical help buttons into customers’ homes; John Lewis crowned geo-location technology start-up Localz the inaugural winner of its JLAB scheme; Zara and American Apparel are successfully using Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) in their respective supply chains.

Over the next two years, more and more retailers will start experimenting with connectivity, both behind the scenes and to power customer engagement. IDC predicts the retail industry will invest over $500 million in the Internet of Things by 2017, and it’s important that this investment is not purely on front end technology.

It seems obvious, but a connected device is only as secure and effective as the network it runs on. The more devices are connected, the greater strain this puts on a network. Therefore retailers must invest in the robustness of their data network for an IoT strategy to stand any chance of success.

Not only that, but business networks must be capable of adapting to multi-stage IoT implementations. In her RBTE speech, Miya pointed out that the Internet of Things can feel vague in concept at the moment, because we don’t know exactly how it will evolve, and therefore networks need the flexibility to adapt to these developments as they unfold.

This is an exciting time for retail technology, but it’s important that forward-thinking organisations get the basics right before exploring cutting-edge solutions. Data networks will be the foundation on which outstanding IoT experiences can be built.