There’s no question that the biggest innovation of the century was the internet. Almost all of the technology for our generation revolves around the internet. Now, “things” are getting connected to the internet one by one, and it’s going to affect e-commerce massively, just as the internet itself changed our way of life.
The Internet of Things
The internet is actually just a glorified communication tool. If you think about it, using the internet is just a smart way of sending and receiving data. But due to its speed and scalability, people found ways to use it beyond communication. The last decade’s innovation almost exclusively revolved around the internet and its by-products.
Enter IoT, the Internet of Things. It’s a way for “things” to communicate with each other. It may sound simple, but it opens up a whole lot of potential for innovation, just like the “normal” internet (internet for people) opened the digital future for us.
The context in communication
See, communication is always a two-way thing. Let’s say that you posted something on Twitter. “What a great day to have instant ramen.” You wouldn’t say that it’s communication if it’s just your post, right? But if someone liked your Tweet, commented, “Hey, what brand is that? I’d love to try other brands.”And that makes it communication.
But we tend to forget that communication isn’t just sending and receiving information. It’s also about processing. If the message simply reached its intended receiver, it’s just an attempt to communicate. It has to be understood by the receiver to be considered true communication.
Context is an integral part of communication. Imagine asking a Frenchman in Japanese, “Toire wa doko desu ka?” (Where’s the toilet?) That’s failed communication, isn’t it? So, just building a road connecting two entities can’t be considered communication--yet. It’s just the first step.
Communication is needed for convenience
Today’s innovation isn’t about solving problems anymore, it’s about making things easier. Thousands of patents are granted each year for inventions created just to make the average consumer’s life a bit more convenient.
Convenience, according to Lexico.com is, “the state of being able to proceed with something without difficulty.” However, often, convenience isn’t necessarily eliminating the work that goes into an activity; it's just displacing one’s efforts. Instead of doing something yourself, something else will do it for you. There are multiple unseen things that are working in the background to provide “convenience.”
Take for example vacuuming your floor. It has to be done regularly, and it requires physical work to do. However, you can either rent a cleaning service to do it for you or buy a robotic vacuum to do it automatically. It’s convenient for you since you don’t have to do the vacuuming physically, but still, it has to be done by someone or something.
But where is communication in that scenario? For the cleaning service, you have to reach out to them, agree on a schedule and lastly, pay for the service. For the robot-vacuum, it’s almost the same thing but you don’t have to pay every time it cleans.
You need to communicate and coordinate what you need to accomplish before they proceed. Information is being exchanged, and in the end, there is an agreement between the two parties.
How IoT relates to e-commerce
E-commerce wasn’t born out of necessity, it was created to take advantage of the internet for convenience. That’s the very same reason that the IoT has been developing. This convenience spans all walks of life, from smart homes for consumers to smart offices and warehouses for store owners. Here’s how e-commerce and the IoT might work together in the near future:
Consumer side: Smart appliances as a niche
You’ve heard of smart assistants, like Amazon Echo, Google Home, Apple HomePod and Samsung Galaxy Home. If you say smart home, these are things that immediately come to mind.
Smart speakers are often the hubs to control other IoT devices, and smart appliances are multiplying exponentially. From thermostat control to smart blenders, you can control them all using just your voice through the smart speakers. Imagine saying, “Alexa, good morning.” Than Alexa, turns on your smart coffee maker, switches on certain lights, controls your thermostat, reads your schedule, then turns on the news. Now, that’s a really smart home.
You can take advantage of this niche for your next e-commerce store. Customized smart appliances, attachments that make “dumb” devices smart, and more. Let your brain go wild. Currently, smart appliances are being dominated by mainstream brands so there’s a massive opportunity for more streamlined e-commerce stores to explore some niches in this industry.
Consumer side: Voice-minded branding
Smart home appliances without smart speakers are connected to the internet so consumers can control them via smartphone apps. This is pretty good, but most people would prefer voice activation.
Voice recognition/activation technology isn’t going away anytime soon. It’s going to be a future feature on all things tech, and e-commerce store owners need to be ready for it. We strongly recommend that if you are just starting an online store or planning to do futureproofing, you think about incorporating voice technology in your online store experience.
Think of consumers ordering something on your store by talking into their computer or tablet, and your store responding in a unique way. If you go this route, make your branding voice activation friendly and like a real person.
Store side: The possibilities are exciting
What makes IoT devices amazing is the collaborative functions they have, plus the data they can gather.
The three basic principles of what a computer does are based on communication: input, process, output. But smart devices, ironically, are “brainless.” Meaning that the processing part of the communication/computing principle is not done by the device itself; it’s processed through the cloud.
But because of this “brainless” approach, smart devices can be customized depending on their use case. Now, only your imagination is the limit on how many smart devices you can have for your store.
Here’s an example:
Let’s say that you gave a Shopify store that makes custom t-shirts. A customer ordered a batch of seven shirts. Each shirt has a different size, different color (for each color of the rainbow) and different print (star, square, heart, diamond, spade, clubs and circle).
The customer places the order. Once your store receives the order, your Smart Shirt Size Sorter™ (wink), sorts the colors and sizes for the order. Then, it sends a signal to a Robo-transporter to get the shirts and transfer them to your Smart Printing Device.
After printing, the Smart Printing Device calls the Robo-transporter again to send the shirts to you for packaging.
While this is happening, you track every aspect on your tablet and know exactly where the shirts are and what’s happening to them. You can see the shirts because the devices have cameras on them. You can also see which device needs maintenance as their statuses appear on your dashboard.
You finally receive the shirts, with your custom touches for packaging. Ain’t that amazing? But wait, there’s more.
Both sides: Customer and store integration
Now imagine, that a consumer can view all the progress of the product on their tablet as well. They could see the products being made for them on a live stream.
Another scenario where your store sells coffee. Then the customer’s smart coffee pot automatically orders new coffee from your store whenever the pot’s content is running low.
The possibilities are endless with store and customer integration.
IoT: Be very excited but very careful
Think of IoT as having a new supercar. It’s new and amazing, but you gotta be very cautious because it’s very powerful. You can’t put your pedal to the metal as soon as you have the car. You have to feel it out first, before taking it to the highway.
Going back to our scenario above with the smart pot. It’s really convenient to have the pot send a signal to your store and order a batch of coffee. However, to order a batch of coffee, the integration would involve sending their location, their name, and financial information. That is a lot of sensitive information being transmitted over the internet.
IoT devices aren’t the most secure devices at the moment, and there have been multiple reported breaches exploiting IoT devices. It’s definitely one of the biggest things you need to consider when thinking about IoT implementation for your store this time.
However, IoT technology is a fairly young innovation. It’s still in development and more improvements are being done everyday. It will reach maturity sooner than later. Security concerns can definitely be in check through careful planning.
We are still overwhelmingly supportive of this technology and looking forward to the day that all of our scenarios above will be the reality. You should be, too. Any step towards innovation is progress for e-commerce.