Remember the old days when prices were on stickers attached to products and cash registers were big, clunky mechanical machines, with no electricity required? Some of us remember the days when you could pay for things with a check and the merchant had no way to verify whether the check was good unless they called your bank, probably using a rotary phone and land line, and talked to an actual person – which few ever did. The evolution of the electronic point of sale (POS) system brought retail out of the stone age, introducing bar codes and scanners that verified your payments through a data network routed though equipment in the network closet. Retailers soon brought in inventory control computers, enabling automated ordering to keep stock at optimal levels.
But this is just the start. High end retailers are already using facial recognition systems to identify you when you walk into a store and personalize the shopping experience. These systems require super high definition cameras that generate tons of data (a few megabits of data every second) requiring powerful servers on site.
Then there is the “reality” of augmented reality and even virtual reality shopping experiences. Shoppers in the not-too-distant future can wear Oculus goggles or use a tablet or smart phone to see coupons for merchandise materialize on their devices as they navigate their way through the store. Videos comparing different golf balls can instantly pop up on your device to help you decide which ball is best for your game. Commercials can pop up as you are walking past items. As you take an item off the shelf, a competitor’s commercial may appear, trying to entice you to change your mind. Your personal health can even be improved. Imagine you pick up an item in a grocery store and are alerted by your device that that item contains gluten or peanuts, which could harm or even kill you.
Simple things are already in place. For example, in Home Depot, you can ask an associate where to find something and they will pull up the exact location on their mobile device. Smart phone apps such as Shops bring the same capability to your own phone.
Virtual reality takes this to the next step with smart mirrors in dressing rooms. You will be able to try on limitless varieties of clothes in any color. Entire virtual stores could be placed anywhere – like the parking lot outside your office, home or apartment, and configured to contain anything you request. Wearing your VR goggles, you could have a virtual shopping experience where you “walk” through aisles and make purchases that you pick up at a fulfillment center or have sent to your home.
All of this can only be made possible through a combination of Internet of Things (IoT) transmitters, sensors, cameras, and beacons connected to a data center on-site at each of these retail locations. These on-site data centers are part of a larger cloud computing architecture and located at the store on the network edge. As this computing technology advances and IoT proliferates, brick and mortar could go the way of the personal bank check.
To learn more about edge computing, check out our free white paper-“The Drivers and Benefits of Edge Computing”.