The internet of (selling) things. Will your washing machine sell you powder?


Retailing (and other B2C businesses) used to be simple. Goods were procured at the lowest cost and sold for a margin in a physical store. Then came phone, internet & mobile channels, creating new opportunities but also new complexity (e.g., tracking customers across channels, optimising supply chain).

Retailers of the future may fondly remember today’s world where just a handful of channels were in play. The internet of things is driving a proliferation of channels. Car manufacturers are planning to turn the car into a channel – drivers are ‘captive’ whilst in vehicle and will be able to use a voice-driven interface to purchase entertainment for the journey, order groceries to collect en-route or organise a loan. Connected fridges already support grocery shopping. The latest generation of washing machines are internet-connected and can change their mode of operation based on real-time electricity prices – it’s not unreasonable to suggest that they will soon sell washing powder.

Extrapolating this trend we could feasibly be offered holidays by our alarm clocks, personal training by our scales and toothpaste by our brushes. And that’s before breakfast. Our journey to work could involve another set of channels including taxis, parking meters and bicycles. Gartner estimates that the average home will have several hundred connected devices by 2022.

Platform providers such as Apple, Google & Vodafone are hoping to simplify the picture by aggregating interaction points (e.g., connecting all touch points in the home). But nonetheless, B2C businesses will need to deal with proliferating channels. To do so, they can already adopt the best practices exhibited by those firms that have already built effective multi-channel businesses. These practices include:

  1. create a clear organisational separation between channels and other functions (e.g., supply chain, manufacturing), so that new channels can be added quickly.
  2. build dedicated teams for each channel, with skills unique to that channel.
  3. create incentives that drive channels to collaborate, rather than compete, so that customers are served in a consistent and optimal way.
  4. develop integrated sales & service strategies that are extremely clear on the role of each channel and the value it is expected to create. Channels are not created equal.
  5. standardise IT architectures so that both owned and third party channels can quickly be connected and data can be shared seamlessly.

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