Stay cool and connected
It all goes back to a client innovation workshop where we talked about managing a fleet of trucks by connecting them with the benefit of improved operational efficiency. This was when one of the world’s leading producers of soft drinks first challenged us with the question: "We also have a fleet of assets in the field… millions of coolers… how can you create the same value and benefits for us?".
In the years since that initial discussion, we have been able to turn the connected cooler idea into a reality which works at scale, creating demonstrable benefits for this client across their core business. Notably technology thereby was not the big challenge, but pretty clear early in the process. What took time was to build up a deep understanding of the potential business impact in order to develop a joint business case. At the same time what has become very clear to me is the need for a lot of transparency and education so that everyone involved understands the business benefits.
Sales up, costs down and focus on consumer
IoT has transformed fleet management by giving companies more control over assets in the field, enabling them to monitor and optimize the performance of trucks and drivers. Coolers may be a much smaller asset, but the same logic applies. By connecting these assets in the field to the digital world, IoT enables a company to improve its control over them, generating new insights and new opportunities to increase their productivity and revenue performance.
Based on our pilots and proof of concepts so far, we have noted that connecting coolers is having a major impact on our clients’ businesses in three main areas.
First of all, connected coolers provide secured real-time information about the coolers’ location and stock levels. That means that sales reps don’t have to manually collect this information, and so have more time to do sales and build relationship with store owners. They can also visit more stores per day. In our proof of concept with one client, covering around 10,000 connected coolers, the client observed that each rep would save 4 days per year, increasing their productivity and helping the company strengthen its retailer relationships.
Data from the cooler, such as information about the number of times a cooler door is opened, is being used to increase the performance of each connected cooler. Sales reps are able to see which coolers are underperforming. This helps them identify which coolers need to be relocated elsewhere in the store or moved to a different store. Further, connected coolers fitted with cameras detect share of visible inventory, out of stock, unintended products and low planogram compliance, and notify reps accordingly. As a result of these insights, our customer has identified opportunities to improve retail execution resulting in a 10% increase in sales.
IoT connectivity also delivers a breakthrough in digital consumer engagement and creates new revenue streams. Bluetooth Beacon technology notifies consumers when they are near to a cooler, triggering customized and personalized notifications and promotions on consumers’ smartphones. The coolers have become a new and very effective point of sale. During the pilot with our client we integrated this technology into the customers’ existing consumer app, and 40% of app users received these notifications, and a further 1 in 4 notifications resulted in a sale.
To crack the technological challenge of creating the connected cooler platform, we worked closely with our specialist partner, eBest IOT, a global leader in retail IoT solutions.
However, developing the right platform is only half of the challenge. This kind of transformational service would not work without a buy-in from all the relevant stakeholders – the owners of the stores where the coolers are based, the sales reps, the maintenance teams, finance people, supply chain teams, and so on. And, companies need to address any of their concerns proactively. Transparency and education are critical. The entire organization needs to be ready to change its processes, respond positively to automation, and train its people in the new skillsets required.
Shaping the future of retail
In addition to the immediate benefits of connecting coolers, the IoT opens up exciting long-term opportunities for companies in the food and beverage, retail and consumer packaged goods (CPG) sectors.
For example, IoT and beacon technologies mean that companies can reach consumers directly and build a relationship with the end-user, not just with the retailer. This could disrupt existing business models in the sector, changing the relationship between food and drink companies and consumers. Drinks producers can use the solution to roll out promotions and build customer loyalty to their brands.
Thanks to the secure data delivered by IoT, combined with advanced analytics, artificial intelligence and process automation, companies can respond to events more quickly, improve their decision-making, and even predict the future. We are now exploring the possibility of taking the data from connected coolers and combining it with external data about the weather or public holidays, and this could dramatically improve the performance of coolers at peak periods.
Finally, it is not only coolers that could be involved. I am sure that soon most retail and CPG companies will have all their assets connected. The IoT revolution is set to transform vending machines, drinks dispensers and many of the other consumer-facing assets of these companies. The connected cooler is just the starting point on this journey for companies to become increasingly data-driven enterprises.