A main theme throughout the Reverse Logistics Association 2019 conference was centered around technology and how it fits in with retail and manufacturers. By now, most people know that 5G technology is right around the corner with promises of faster speeds, lower latency, and the potential to connect everything from home appliances to entire cities. The idea of connect-to-everything is inherent to IoT (Internet of Things) and the advantages it provides through data collection. For retailers and manufacturers, this translates to advances in communicating with customers through home hubs and artificial and virtual reality.

Steve Koenig, VP Research CES spoke on the topic of 5G, AI, IoT and the implications for retailers at RLA – February 2019

5G, AI, IoT and Consumer Returns

We are entering the data age where consumer choices are stored in large databases and digital privacy has center stage. The tech behind5G when combined with IoT devices and intelligent softwarewill disrupt how retailers communicate with their customers. Better apps, sensors, customer care, mobile devices, tools and processes will allow retailers to collect data that can be analyzed to determine customer behavior and why they may or may not return something.

With volumes of customer data being collected and stored, technology trends point towards protecting consumer privacy.

Much of this data collection will take place through mobile devices and home hubs. That data will then be sent through 5G networks to data centers where it is stored and processed by AI.  The next few sections explain how that can work.

IoT is now the Intelligence of Things

IoT involves the development of processors and chips, embedded AI, machine learning, and how all of that fits into digital assistants, such as Alexa and Google Home Hub. Basically, these digital assistants are designed to to help consumers make decisions that will improve their lives by making it easier to do things… like get news updates, weather forecasts, listen to music and podcasts and so on.

Questions consumers currently ask their home hub:

Ask questions – 63%

Check the weather – 58%

Listen to music/podcasts – 50%

Set a timer or alarm – 45%

Check the news/sports – 30%

Send a message to someone – 25%

Search for recipes or cooking information – 23%

Check personal calendar – 22%

Source: CTA, Voice Shopping Study, August 2018

It won’t be long before more and more people start trusting their home hubs for shopping and buying. Currently, popular items to order through a home hub include things like laundry detergent and other non-perishables that families need on a regular basis.

Connecting to Google and Amazon

For many retailers, the goal is to now connect devices and voice search results to either Google or Amazon. If a TV, appliance, device or outlet doesn’t connect to the home hub, then consumers don’t want it. Alexa already has over 60,000 skills and there are over 20,000 compatible devices on the market.

“Where people used to say, we need to get on the Internet, now they are saying, we need to get on Alexa. And it’s all happening now.” – Steve Koenig, VP Research CES

The Google Home Hub already allows people to view and add to their grocery shopping list and will make suggestions for ordering. In a similar way, Alexa allows for easy ordering and purchasing through Amazon without needing to sign in.

Limits to the Automation

There are limits to the automation home hubs and robotics can provide. For example, it’s already been proven that autonomous pizza delivery doesn’t work; people didn’t want to leave their home to go to the car to get the pizza. Consumers still require human interaction, they want the delivery person knocking on the door with a friendly hand off.

It’s important to remember that despite all the advances in tech: customers still want people-to-people interaction

Other known limitations to shopping through Alexa or Google include ability to compare items, see pictures, or trade up to more expensive items. For now, most consumers are buying single items and not building large baskets.

Path to Artificial Reality and Virtual Reality

The path to AR/VR will be different for retailers depending on industry. For in-store apparel retail, the use of artificial reality smart mirrors will allow a consumer to see how clothes look without trying them on. Data sensors can store: which clothes were tried on, which were discarded, which were bought, and can then compare that to their movements through the store. Additional ideas come from the auto industry, where Audi has a sandbox demo where people can test drive a car through VR.

Suits like the ones featured in the movie Ready Player One are a reality in Japan where the public can visit experience centers—places where people can enjoy all types of experiences from skydiving to scuba diving through virtual reality.

It’s up to retailers to determine how best to use the tech!

B-Stock will work with you

In the meantime, the reality is that major retailers are still using Excel sheets to sell their liquidation inventory to one or two large buyers. If that’s you, then B-Stock would love to talk with you about just how easy it is set up an automated program to sell returned, excess, and other liquidation inventory via a private, auction marketplace. This technology-driven approach will increase recovery rates on consumer returns and to keep warehouse inventory moving.

We also invite you to review our case studies and our suite of private marketplaces that we operate for 9 of the top 10 U.S. retailers and hundreds more.

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