How M2M solutions are changing the world of retail

Hello and thanks as always for reading.  One of the industries that has seen the most amazing technological changes over the past decade is the retail space.  To many people, stores haven’t changed all that much....they are still a place to buy things you need.  However, this industry has done a great job in using technology to improve the way that we shop, while finding ways to reduce costs and maximize profitability in the face of declining sales.

One common thing that I find (being that I work in the M2M field) is that the general public is quite befuddled by the term M2M.....it doesn’t register with most people.  By showing how many of the things that they see each day in retail stores are powered by M2M solutions, it makes it easier to explain what I do for a living!

So, how has the introduction of M2M changed the face of retail?

Many of us remember the commercial (I think from IBM, drop me a note if I am wrong!) where it looks like a young man is shoplifting and about to be caught by a Loss Prevention officer, only to have the officer stop the man and hand him his receipt.  This was definitely a forward-thinking commercial, as self check-outs and quick payment solutions have become commonplace in retail in the past few years.  This cool feature is enabled by a few key components:

  • First, there is some sort of scanning technology, whether it is traditional bar-code, RFID, NFC or Bluetooth technology involved to process the item and to total the purchase.
  • Next, the transaction needs to be verified, so the information is sent across the Internet to have the financial portion of the transaction completed, whether it is charged to a credit or debit card.
  • Finally, some sort of a receipt (whether printed or emailed) has to be generated.

To continue on the process listed in the scenario above, many systems do not stop there when it comes to automation technology.  Real-time inventory management applications have become commonplace, to ensure that the shelf does not stay empty for long.  The key facts of the transaction (which location, which item/SKU and how many) are instantly uploaded to an Inventory Management solution, which Inventory control teams use to make important, real-time decisions about the level of required inventory.

There once was a time when the only thing that you were able to buy in vending machines / kiosks was junk food and questionably fresh coffee!  Now, vending machines are becoming mini-stores, thanks to many benefits of M2M!  By increasing the value of the items that are sold in machines, companies had to take a few extra things into consideration, such as:

  • Since these items are not “reactionary” purchases, the placement of the kiosk took on an entirely new level of importance.  Vendors needed to be able to place the machine in EXACTLY the correct spot based on expected foot traffic, without necessarily thinking about the location of the nearest landline.
  • Inventory management became much more important, as the financial impact of a loss is much more on a $200 set of headphones vs. a can of pop.  It also became more important to refresh popular items, due to the possible amount of lost revenue when inventory is low.
  • Since many of these items are not as reactionary and the demand is not as real-time as in the past (i.e. when you are thirsty, you don’t think twice about buying a drink, but you may think twice about buying headphones on the road when you have some at home), it was imperative that the proper advertising was done.  This included the addition of Advertising terminal (see below for more details) and personalized service.
  • Finally, a higher level of security is involved in these transactions, since many of them involved the use of credit or debit cards, something new to many vending machine vendors.

Wireless M2M solutions have provided these vendors with increased flexibility in placement of the units, a reliable and secure method of processing transactions and enough bandwidth to quickly send new video to increase traffic.

One of the fastest growing trends in the financial space is the explosion in the use of Credit and debit cards to complete transactions.  It has now gotten to the point where fewer and fewer people carry a significant amount of cash on them.  This had led to a dilemma.....how to retailers who are not able to use traditional landline services offer these payment options to their customers, and if they do not, will their sales suffer?  Mobile Point of Sale systems have allowed many mobile vendors the ability to offer commonly used services to maintain / grow their business.  It is now commonplace to be able to pay by credit or debit card for transactions such as home delivery services, taxis and flea/farmer’s markets.  This has helped to continue the need for consumers to use their preferred method in more places, further strengthening the growth in credit and debit card use.  This technology breakthrough only became possible when these solutions were able to use cellular networks that offered them the wide coverage areas, available bandwidth and high levels of security to process these transactions.

With the increasing growth of Credit and debit cards, it also increases the importance of having a reliable connection.  As customers begin to carry less and less cash on their person, the likelihood of being able to complete transactions with cash during times when the network connection goes down become rare.  Many companies are using high-speed wireless connections to provide a reliable and real-time backup for key Internet connections.  Not only does it provide a great redundant connection for financial transaction processing, it is equally valuable to provide a backup for in-bound orders that may be received on the Internet.  These include e-commerce transactions, as well as orders being received from the Internet, such as food orders and orders for electronics, that will be picked up at the retail store.

So, are M2M solutions only good once the consumer is in the store?  Hardly, based on the incredible growth in Mobile Marketing, such as Digital signage, QR Codes and Bluetooth-based marketing.  These solutions allow for much more focused advertising, as well as the ability for consumers to become “engaged” with the medium, through the desire to receive special coupons or the requirement to click on a link to see the message.  These forms of advertising have proven to be much more cost-effective in certain demographics when compared to media that is all about one-way messaging such as static billboards, TV and print.

Finally, as a way to get to know their customers better (and to gain advantages over their competitors), progressive retailers are using intelligent video systems to study the pattern of customer traffic to better optimize displays and store layouts.  Based on similar technology that airports have used to be notified about bags left unattended, retailers are noting the path that certain consumers take, the amount of time that they spend in front of certain displays and what parts they seemed to have the most interest in.  This allows them to receive real-time information as to the effectiveness of a layout or display, and to make quick changes in minutes, instead of weeks.

As always, thanks for reading, and let Novotech know how they can help you with your M2M solution!

How M2M is changing the world of Security as we know it

Submitted by Larry Bellehumeur on 

Hello and thanks for reading.  This post came from a request from one of our loyal readers, who has asked to remain nameless!  

When many people think of “security”, they often visualize the 80 yr old security guard sitting at a desk.  Nothing could be further from the truth, as the security industry is among the most technologically advanced of any industries.  M2M has played a big part in this technological revolution, as it has allowed for better retrieval of information, as well as the ability to take quick action.  It has also brought down costs, sped up deployments and increased the places where many security services can be used.

Here are just a few examples:

Over the past few years, the lower cost and wide spread deployment of cellular networks has caused companies to “cut the wire”, meaning that they are no longer using legacy landline networks (POTS, DVAC, etc) for the deployment of key systems like Alarm panels.  This allows for much quicker deployments (systems are deployed in minutes, not weeks waiting for a landline), are deployed for much less cost and are operated at a fraction of the monthly cost of a landline (often 70-90% less for lower frequency use sites).

The combination of cellular and GPS networks has offered a different meaning to the phrase “where are you now”?  Being able to track something in a live manner (whether it be a prisoner through a bracelet on their person or a proverbial “bag of diamonds” through small, discreet tracking devices) has allowed for much more flexibility in the art of security.  This same technology is used in hidden (or low-profile) tracking devices used in high-value items such as vehicles for things like bait cars.

“I can see you now” used to be a phrase only seen when there was a landline around.   The proliferation (and relative low-cost) of high-speed cellular data networks has allowed for it to be a viable method of transporting live feed for video systems.  This allows for much more flexibility in placement, much faster deployments and the ability to deploy covert units, such as in the case of false window-mounted AC units for monitoring criminals.

Finally, being alone in a dark building can be a very scary experience.  In order to increase the safety of remote security staff, security companies are providing remote personal units to alert in the case of an emergency.  These devices allow for users to press a button to alert of an urgent situation, and in the event that the person is unable to speak, many allow for alerts in the case of “non-motion” of the staff after a pre-set period.  In addition, many of these staffs have technology such as bar-code readers to remotely keep track of the activities of a remote guard and provide reports to the client.  This provides a strong method of customer services, as well as to reduce legal liabilities by proving that key work has been done.

As always, thanks for reading, and let us know how we can help!

#M2M In The Wide World Of Sports

Hello and thanks for reading.  This one is from a request from a reader who had wanted to help explain M2M to their sports-loving father-in-law.  I hope it helped!

When one thinks of M2M, the usual thinking is that M2M is only used for business applications.  While many of the early adoption of M2M technology was in the world of business, it is also starting to make its way into the wide world of sports.

Here are a few different ways that M2M is making a difference in sports:

On-board telematics for Auto racing  When you watch any of the major auto racing circuits on TV, it is amazing the amount of data that is available to the home viewer.  The viewer is able to follow many different things that are going on in the car, including its current velocity, its RPM/choice of gears, when the vehicle is braking and much more.  This is only a fraction of the information that is being gathered by on-board sensors on the vehicle and being sent back to the pit crews.  They are able to monitor the health of the engine, transmission, tires and many other vital parts to the safe operation of the vehicle.  This reduces unnecessary repairs and increases the safety for the drivers.  Much of the same technology has made its way into every day vehicles, such as in the GM on-board offering that allows drivers to have certain diagnostics done remotely.

Marathon tracking made easy  While on-board sensors are being used to track race vehicles, many other kinds of races use telematics as well.  One great example is the RFID chips that are becoming common in many running races.  Strategically placed RFID readers are able to detect when a runner cross a certain threshold (such as the start/finish line and particular mile markers).  Since many races are done on regular commuter roads, wireless modems are also often used to feed back the data in real time to a central host (to make up for the lack of a permanent landline being available).  This allows family members to see the progress of a runner in real time, as well as for great historical data for the runner to gauge their performance (such as too fast of a start/fading at the end or what pace works best for certain conditions).  This technology has also found its way into many bicycle races as well.

Even non-marathon runners are getting into the act  With the advent of the smartphone, consumers now had a device that they often carried which is capable of transmitting GPS enabled information (plus, it played some killer tunes to keep you motivated while you ran).  Thanks to key players such as Nike, many applications now exist to allow for key pieces of information (such as distance run, pace and even heart rate monitoring) to be uploaded in real time to a hosted application.  The athlete is able to chart performance using their smartphone....or in my case, allows my spouse to find me when I get lost (true story, not particularly proud of it, actually).

Taking it to the extreme....safely  Finally, many extreme sports, such as extreme skiiing and snowmobiling have made the experience much more safe by incorporating GPS tracking systems.  These systems, similar to work-alone systems used for remote Oil/Gas and Mining workers, allow for the GPS location to be transmitted over reliable satellite connections in the event that someone is either unable to speak or is buried under a pile of snow.

Now read another post by Larry called: M2M in Everyday Life

As always, let Novotech know how we can help you with your M2M needs, even if it is for “non-business” activities.  Check us out @ www.novotech.com.  You can also follow me on Twitter @LBNovotechM2M.