The internet of things will change everyday shopping

The Internet of Things is upon us.

In 1997 I produced a whitepaper for the South African Property Owners Association titled ‘Internet-enabled Buildings.’ I had the vision that air-conditioning and lighting systems will be controlled via the internet. I had visions that lessees would demand the cabling and the server rooms (with special floors and special conduits). That seems quaint by today’s standards.

Little did I know that that a building sensor would be talking to the lessee’s shoes and that the shoes would be talking to their watches and the watches to the auto door… and so on. Right now, every piece of equipment can be talking to every other piece of equipment.

NFC. Bluetooth. WiFi. Wearable computers. Smart devices. Cloud-based servers. 100Mb/s broadband speeds. Big Data. Smart algorithms.  The recently launched Xbox One is a device (not just a gaming console) that has the potential to become the hub of The Internet of Things (TIT) in your house. Minority Report is looking less like science fiction every day.

All of these factors are combining to enable your pair of Nike shoes to talk to your fridge and your fridge to the TV and the TV to the supermarket website.

TIT can be defined simply as devices communicating with each other (via the Internet). You may or not be familiar with The Internet of Things – but the ecosystem I described above creates exactly that. And like most of the technology-driven trends, the pace is scary.

The internet traffic of 2017 will equal the total traffic from 1984 through to 2012; and a big chunk of this will come from TIT.

Unlimited storage capacity is required by the data explosion. Internet traffic will soon be measure in zettabytes. (That is ONE TRILLION gigabytes. Or to put it differently; one zettabyte is the equivalent of one billion DVDs per day downloaded every day for an entire year.)

When LG brought out the internet-enabled fridge, I taught the MBAs that it was for the same reason BMW raced in the Formula 1 competition: it is a showcase product that creates a positive halo effect for the brand, and that it wasn’t with the expectation of actually selling fridges. It seems as if I under-estimated that too.

Another prediction I’d made was that online supermarket shopping would eventually have negative consequences for many brands. People would save their shopping lists or that shopping lists would pre-populate with previous purchases to reduce the time necessary to decide what to buy. (To increase the convenience factor.)

The Internet of Things could become the Trojan Horse that kills many little brand soldiers because the ONE major implication (of many) of TIT is that high frequency and/or commodity purchases are delegated to a ‘device’.

Purchases of certain products can become increasingly automated – and the need for direct consumer involvement is obviated.

You don’t often think about how you purchase electricity – I am not even sure who my provider is. Soon you won’t be thinking how you buy your salt and your toilet paper and so forth.

I don’t know if you noticed, but nowhere did you actually consider your options and you did not have the opportunity of switching to a different brand. (Challenger brands may buy the rights to become a suggested alternative on your shopping list based on the eCommerce version of slotting fees.)


In this diagram, products that are positioned to the left of the yellow marker are probably vulnerable to a greater extent. Luxury and/or infrequent purchases are less vulnerable. (Contextual commerce may be the new black for these luxury products.)

Already there is a successful eCommerce business selling shaver blades via monthly subscription. Those users never again get the opportunity (or have the need) to consider all the brands on offer. From there it is a small step for the a small chip in your razor to actually place the order based on your usage pattern so that you don’t end up with a pile of blades you don’t need.

Humans are creatures of habit, so one should consider the risk profile of your product life cycle in the light of the Internet of Things. It becomes another question that must be added to the (long list of) strategic questions you must already consider as you jockey for survival:

How does The Internet of Things impact my business?

As always, the million dollar question is actually what we must DO about this, but that is not something resolved in a blog post…

Have fun.


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