The Set List: How Will Brands Use the Internet of Things to Help Customers Engage with Products and Services?
Owain Roberts in The Set List, The Set List

Editor’s note: this blog is the ninth in a series discussing trends and insights into the world around us.

Mobile, and increasingly, wearable devices are the primary interfaces through which we connect to everything. Social media, information, data, the Web, libraries of music and images, online stores… the list goes on.

This connectivity with our world continues apace as the Internet of Things (IoT) becomes a reality. “The Internet of what?” you ask? Well, in simple terms, the IoT refers to the ever-growing network of interconnected devices designed with the ability to communicate with each other. They are integrating seamlessly into our daily lives to offer tangible, relevant services and experiences. Household objects, commercial products, retail services and even entire cities could soon be connected together to enable personalised, smarter and more sustainable living.

Having control over everything in life via a hand-held device (whether it’s adjusting the temperature at home while you’re at work, hailing an Uber or tracking your fitness goals and activity) is an increasingly accepted and familiar concept. A recent report by Gartner suggests that by 2020 there will be close to 21 billion connected things worldwide and consumer adoption rates of this new technology is increasing exponentially—John Lewis experienced an 81 percent increase in sales of its smart home products in 2015 (Campaign, 2016).

However, despite these positive sales figures, Accenture reported in 2016 that 23 percent of consumers have no idea what device or system would be of use to them, with 17 percent stating that IoT devices were too confusing. So, how will brands use the IoT to help customers engage with products and services?

Like all aspects of technology and digital integration, simplicity is king. If it doesn’t improve the experience then it’s just a gimmick and will soon become obsolete. When integrated seamlessly and intuitively, it becomes second nature for users and adds a new type of connectivity and control to the way we connect with brands. So, what can we expect to see in the next few years? Well, it seems like the future is already here. Amazon recently trialed a fully automated grocery store that replaces traditional checkouts with advanced visual recognition and sophisticated tracking technologies, linked to a smartphone app. You simply scan a QR code on your app to enter the ‘Amazon Go’ store, take what you want and then just leave. Everything you take is instantly billed to your Amazon account. While aspects of trust and privacy are sure to be a challenge, this move shows that disruptive technology can be used to re-imagine pain-points in physical retail environments further blurring the lines between on-line and off.

Of course, this technology doesn’t only provide convenience and control for end users. Collecting vast amounts of data allows businesses to respond, in real time, to everything from the weather, customer circulation, inventory levels and product demand. Creating a fluid, responsive and agile in-store experience. So what next? While the Internet of Things is a relatively new phenomenon, brands need to consider the potential impact this new interface can offer as part of their service and experience design strategies and plan for the future now—adoption rates of this new technology are incredibly high, and has the potential to be a disruptive force in retail that helps deliver customers’ expectations of new and personalised shopping experiences.

Owain Roberts
Owain is the regional Retail Practice Area Leader and design director in Gensler’s London office. With a clear understanding that consumers see design as a single idea, not a series of separate elements, he encourages a seamless relationship between graphic design and environmental design to create complete retail experiences. His broad range of experience in environmental design covers both retail and commercial interiors and also branding exercises for high profile projects. Contact him at
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