Demographic change is without doubt one of the major challenges of the 21st century – ambient assisted living is one way to make life easier for the elderly. As the average age of the population continues to rise, technical solutions have to be found that allow older people or others needing care to lead a self-determined and independent life for as long as possible. Developing intelligent applications for this target group is the digital responsibility of the technology leaders.
Smart retail as part of ambient assisted living
In any discussion of technology-based support for the elderly, the first thing that generally springs to mind is the catchphrase ambient assisted living. This term typically covers monitoring and location systems – such as smart home emergency call systems – which keep doctors, relatives and caregivers always up-to-date on a patient's state of health and whereabouts. Yet true self-determined living involves a lot more. For those who find it difficult to leave their home alone and cannot carry heavy weights, even everyday shopping becomes a major challenge. Smart solutions that allow the ordered goods to be delivered to the home improve quality of life significantly. Thanks to the Internet of Things, the possibilities in this respect extend well beyond online shopping.
IoT solutions for retail trade
The potential of IoT for retail is enormous: a lot is possible, from connecting objects with one another as well as with the user – for example by using apps – to optimizing the supply chain. Until recently, goods were usually requested in a fixed rhythm from the supplier however smart shelves can now determine independently how many goods are still in stock and if necessary, give the signal for reordering. Predictive analytics of this nature can effectively prevent out-of-stock situations. What is more, customers can request local stocks and reserve them for collection.
Yet the real IoT revolution in the area of retail with assisted shopping systems is set to change the point-of-sale completely. Thanks to digital technology, the point-of-sale can be moved to the customer's home without the customer having to click through the order process of the online shops. This leads to greater convenience – and to greater independence for the less mobile. A well-known albeit still rarely used example is the smart refrigerator, which automatically creates a shopping list as soon as stocks start to run low.
Seamless reordering of goods
So-called smart buttons have become more of a reality: for example, the online retailer Amazon's "Dash Buttons". These are physical order buttons that can be used to reorder everyday necessities at the simple touch of a button. The order is sent directly to the retailer without any additional user interface and the goods are delivered by parcel to the customer's home. And the advantage for the consumer? The assisted solution is low-tech and makes shopping possible without ever having to leave the house. And for retailers? They encourage their customers to engage in an automated shopping process, thus minimizing the effort involved and, above all, price comparisons. Buttons are already available for razor blades, care products, coffee capsules, detergents and lots more.
It goes even further: while initially every button was assigned to a specific brand with its sole function being to order a single product at the press of a button, the more recent smart buttons can do a lot more. Any number of different actions are possible, depending on how often and for how long the button is pressed.
What is even more intuitive: consumers can use voice-activated assistants such as Google Home, Amazon Echo alias "Alexa", Microsoft Cortana or Apple's Siri to order the goods they need quickly and easily using voice commands: "Alexa, order crisp bread." While Amazon Echo already offers this functionality, as a voice-assisted shopping solution it is not yet working flawlessly: for example, numerous Echo devices in the U.S. inadvertently ordered a doll's house after a TV spot because the presenter said: "I love the little girl saying 'Alexa ordered me a doll's house'." Nevertheless, voice-activated assistants are developing at a rapid pace – in the direction of artificial intelligence. Older generations will also benefit from this: "Older customers in particular still have problems with apps and online retail," said e-commerce expert Alexander Graf from WiWo. "Once shopping based on voice recognition has become established, this target group will also be much easier to tap into."
"Age of the Customer" – fulfilling new demands
Why are innovative concepts relevant for retail? In retail, like almost everywhere, new business models can develop and be successful – as the growth of online retail demonstrates. Connected technology shifts the focus from the product to the customer, whose needs are the ultimate benchmark. Consumers are better informed and can compare prices and offers with the competition directly in-store on their smartphones. To meet these expectations, retail has to create new and simple shopping channels. This is why shopping solutions such as the smart button or voice-activated assistants make sense, since apart from the actual decision to buy, they can take care of everything else for the consumer: from selection to ordering to delivery.