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The Internet of Things (IoT), or digitising the physical world, will transform the way companies do business over the next 10 years – and both b2b and b2c ecommerce will be at the heart of that transformation. Sensors and actuators built into everyday objects and machines, and connected by networks to computer systems will enable ecommerce to stretch across the entire customer journey, from awareness to intent, to purchase and beyond.

Billions of connected objects everywhere will have the potential to support direct customer interaction and automate the sales and ordering processes. With the IoT market forecast to hit $1.7 trillion by 2018, it’s already happening in sectors like manufacturing and oil & gas. Technology suppliers are now ramping up IoT businesses and creating strategies to help customers design, implement, and operate complex systems so that they can capture, analyse and monetise data collected from the physical world.

Using IoT enabled objects, devices, tools and machines means you can tag and track all your products and collect all kinds of real-time data from them. So for example, if you supply machine parts for a production line, those parts can notify you of problems or failure, and a replacement part automatically ordered. If you overlay that data with the latest in artificial intelligence, you can go one stage further and actually predict the problem before it happens, which enables you to take pre-emptive action and avoid unnecessary downtime for your customer.

Consider stock management too. Inventories are normally tracked through business or accounting systems that can reconcile stock in the warehouse with products sold and then notify vendors of the need for more supplies. With IoT, inventories can be managed in real-time. Incoming and outgoing stock can be tracked automatically and details such as product category, identification code and batch synchronised with business systems and ecommerce platforms to provide customers with the most up-to-date information. Similarly, IoT can help to improve the performance of logistics by enabling the real-time monitoring and management of goods and vehicles in-transit, while automatically providing customers with accurate information on delivery.

The capabilities of IoT can enhance the experience at every stage of the customer journey by ensuring that all your engagements are relevant, timely and valuable. The focus is on a completely personalised customer experience, based in real-time. With the ability to instantly collect and analyse data at every customer touch-point, tailored promotional offers and product-specific information can be relayed in an instant, without the need for any human intervention. This creates cross-sell and upsell opportunities, as well as improving overall standards of service, including in areas such as managing warranties and annual maintenance contracts.

The IoT has the potential to fundamentally change how companies operate and interact with their customers – and the wider world. The ability to monitor and manage objects in the physical world electronically will make data-driven decisions and automation central to optimising the performance of business systems and processes. Many companies are already starting to realise some of the benefits, but every ecommerce business will need to ensure they’re equipped to capitalise on the opportunities offered by IoT – or risk being left behind.

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