How the Internet of Things Is Helping Consumers and Retailers Connect

Sima Nadler, IBM worldwide research lead for retail and commerce

The Internet of Things (IoT) is dramatically changing how data is collected and for what purposes (e.g., weather forecasts and auto-insurance rates). It’s now even dropping into the retail space. Depending on technical infrastructures and data type, retailers can know who you are and what you’re shopping for. And the retailers themselves can use this technology to improve their own operations.

“I think in the future the definition of shopper is going to be everything from your dishwasher to your robot.”
—Sima Nadler, IBM worldwide research lead for retail and commerce

Some prognosticators are looking further out, envisioning household appliances and wearables that can place orders by themselves. Some of this is farther out than other possibilities, but there’s little doubt, as Sima Nadler, IBM worldwide research lead for retail and commerce, describes here, that the retail landscape is changing for both consumers and companies.

Q. How is shopping different than it was five years ago?
I was asked around two years ago about what will happen with shopping, and my prediction was that the retailers that will ultimately succeed will be those that know how to merge the virtual and the physical experience. I think we see that coming true. We see pure e-commerce players opening stores. And physical stores are bringing more digital into the stores.

So the way we shop is changing in that retailers are using different channels to understand who we are and react appropriately to who we are as an individual. I think in some ways we’re attempting to turn 360 degrees, moving from mom-and-pop shops where the sales cycle was very personal to mass marketing and mass productization to now, through technology, back to the level of personalization we used to have.

Q. Many large retailers have gone out of business because of the online experience. Do you think IoT retail-type technology will help them attain and retain customers?
If they do it correctly, yes, and those that do not will go out of business. Things are very, very dynamic in this space, and I think eventually when you say “shopper,” that’s to be a very different definition of shopper than we have now. Today, you assume it’s a physical being, but I think in the future the definition of shopper is going to be everything from your dishwasher to your robot.

The refrigerator example that people have been talking about for literally 20 years, if not more, is starting to develop to make it more of a reality. I think you will see things like your washing machine and your dishwasher come online first, but the refrigerators will follow. Your clothing closet will follow. In fact, in some ways the clothing is probably easier.

Jim Utsler, IBM Systems Magazine senior writer, has been covering the technology field for more than a decade. Jim can be reached at

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