At the beginning of desktop computing, let’s say when Apple came up with the first operating system that users could interact with without having to type in commands as text, companies tried to emulate things from the real world with their systems. Examples are icons like the “trash bin” on your desktop or different tools such as “pens” and “brushes” in graphics programs.

Nowadays you can see a reverse development. Rather than being turned into icons or pixels in computer programs, things of the physical world become “smart” themselves simply by being hooked up to the Internet. Or in other words: The concept of “Internet of Things” implies that you can connect any device with an on-and-off-switch to the Internet. This could be anything from household appliances like fridges and toasters to other everyday objects.

One example of an Internet of Things device that is already on the market is the Amazon Dash button, a Wi-Fi connected device that reorders your favorite product with the press of one button. Each Dash button is paired with a product of your choice. Although Amazon is the pioneer in this field, companies from the DACH region have also discovered the benefits of these “order buttons”. One of them is the Swiss company with its Order Button. This product is similar to the Amazon Dash button but has some advantages like assigning one button to several products.

Another example is the Amazon Fire TV stick that turns your ordinary TV into a Smart TV. Smart TVs are becoming more popular by the minute. Five years ago 52 million Smart TVs were sold, while the number rose to 141 million in 2015. Also in 2015 nearly 36 million US households had a Smart TV (Source: Statista).

Image: The Smart TV experience

The benefits and downside of Internet of things

The main benefit of these devices is that the connection between the devices also allows communication between them. But why would you want so many connected devices talking to each other? The simple answer is that it makes life much easier. One future scenario in retail might be that your fridge automatically orders milk or other groceries online as soon as you run out of it or your washing machine informs your local drugstore when there’s no more detergent so that they can send it to you.
Obviously, there are also some issues that might occur when numerous devices are being connected. Security is one of them. How can you assure that personal information stays personal? Also, there is a huge amount of data that all connected devices are producing, so you need a reliable and secure place, where you can store your data.

Hardware and software need to go hand in hand

Internet of Things has two aspects that are equally important and need to go hand in hand: Hardware and software. Regarding hardware, it’s important that retailers think about which devices really make sense for users. The main goal is to make the lives of customers easier and not just selling devices that are nice to have but add no real additional value for users.
Regarding of software, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. It can actually be dangerous when retailers without any experience in this area build cloud platforms and try to connect hardware devices to it. The worst thing that can happen is that customer data is exposed. It’s better to use a secure, established platform provider such as the commercetools platform. One of its main advantages is its flexible API which all devices can easily communicate with. Also, it scales automatically and has inbuilt security, so retailers don’t have to worry about a fast growing number of connected devices – if thousands of fridges order new milk in the weeks before Xmas because of prolonged baking session, this should be an opportunity for retailers – not a threat.
It would require the much-cited look into the crystal ball to make assumptions about how much our lives will be affected by connected devices around us in the future. But one thing is sure already: the infrastructure necessary to make the best out of smart vacuum cleaners and clever air purifiers is already there, ready to be used and experimented with. Give us a call!
(Photo Credit: Thinkstock)