Consumer goods have so far held something of a niche position in online retailing. Manufacturers and retailers aim to change that. A Procter & Gamble development shows that the Internet of Things may have an important part to play in bringing about this change.
Clothes, books, and consumer electronics have for years been among the sales hits in online trading. The also-rans have been mainly consumer goods such as food or drugstore items. Online retailers and manufacturers now plan to boost demand for these product categories by means of new approaches.
Online retailer Amazon, for example, offers customers a Subscribe & Save facility. With just one order, customers are supplied regularly with consumer and household goods such as fruit, muesli, make-up, or washing-up liquid. Subscription models of this kind often fail to correspond to customers’ actual needs, however, because they assume that everyday life is regular and they have to be canceled when, for example, customers take a vacation.
From product to Point of Sale
Razor manufacturer Gillette has adopted a different approach. With the Gillette Perfect Shave box, users order razor blades on demand. Along with the holder for the razor the box has an “Order” button. When blades are running low, you just press the button to order more.
P&G subsidiary Gillette developed the concept in collaboration with the eCommerce startup Perfect Shops and Telekom. Together the partners successfully presented the Gillette Box on this year’s CeBIT. Users must first register – themselves and the device. When they then press the order button a GSM wireless module and SIM card in the box place the order, making the product a mobile Point of Sale (PoS). To prevent inadvertent orders, the customer receives an order confirmation e-mail. Click on the link and your blades will be shipped.
An Internet of Things pioneer
It comes as no surprise to industry insiders that P&G has entered the fray on the Internet of Things. Kevin Ashton, a former employee of the consumer goods group, is considered to have coined the concept, which he describes in a June 2009 RFID Journal article.
But the Internet of Things should be much more than optimizing the supply chain. That was demonstrated, for example, by the early telematics applications of Deutsche Telekom around the same time. Today, every conceivable object and location is going to be connected to the Internet.
That opens up entirely new opportunities for online retailers. If the customers’ things are already connected with the Internet customers no longer need to scroll their way around websites and online shops and fill out forms. The products themselves are the PoS and can be ordered directly by pressing a button. Tradesmen can order nails straight from their toolboxes and cooks can order fresh vegetables from their stores by pressing a button.
From order to delivery
When Ashton gave his presentation in 1999 the typical supply chain ran from the production site to retail stores. Today it runs increasingly often to the consumer’s front door. To ensure that razor blades and other deliveries reach the recipient even if he is not at home, Telekom has developed with DHL and feldsechs the PaketButler, a simple mobile parcel acceptance solution. It will be launched in the course of the year.
This is how it works: If you are expecting a parcel delivery you fix the PaketButler on your front door. The delivery agent puts the delivery into the device and closes it securely. In the future, the PaketButler will also be able to handle returns. Put the parcel into it, close the device, and order it to be collected.
The extent to which solutions of this kind expedite eCommerce remains to be seen. What is clear, however, is that with the Internet of Things a new era is about to begin for eCommerce.
If you are located in Germany, Austria or Switzerland, you currently have the opportunity to be one of the first users. The German tech magazine Computer Bild is looking for early adopters.