The Internet of Things (IoT) is a network of physical objects with built-in sensors, software and other technology. These objects — or things — connect to the web and exchange data with other devices and systems.
According to Statista, there are more than 11 billion IoT devices in use today. And experts predict that number will top 29 billion by 2030.
The Internet of Things offers real benefits for every industry — benefits that directly translate into smoother customer experiences. Think about tech that can:
- Track and manage inventory
- Enhance marketing and sales efforts
- Communicate with customers
- Catch machine issues before they happen
- Assist in product development
- Monitor and control environments
- Improve team and system efficiency
By 2030, McKinsey estimates, IoT could enable $5.5–$12.6 trillion in value globally, including the value captured by consumers and customers of IoT products and services.
So what does using IoT look like at a brand level, and what benefits are those brands uncovering? Let’s look.
Princess Cruises: The OceanMedallion
The Internet of Things began making a splash in the cruise industry in 2017 when Carnival released the OceanMedallion — a quarter-sized IoT device that pairs with an app called Ocean Compass — on its Princess Cruise line.
The medallion, which cruisers keep in their pocket or wear as jewelry, opens up a hyper-personalized and ultra-convenient vacation experience. (Not to mention new revenue opportunities, with medallion jewelry, keychains and other accessories popping up in ship gift shops.)
“Guests love the Princess MedallionClass Experience because it maximizes their vacation time and lets them cruise the way they want, based on their unique wants, needs and desires,” Vicki Johnson, head of communications for Princess Cruises, told CMSWire.
She added that the tech “enables the complete opposite of what many people think cruise ships are: mass volumes of guests being served the same experience at the same time in the same space.”
For cruisers, the OceanMedallion offers up a bounty of conveniences, including:
- Touch-free boarding
- Keyless room entry
- Touchless payment
- The ability to locate any loved one on the ship
- The ability to get delivery anywhere you are on the ship
Behind the scenes, the company collects and analyzes vast amounts of data in real-time, John Padgett, Princess Cruises president and Carnival CXO, told Hospitality Technology. “Why? Because to deliver true personalization, we need the information the guest is creating that very second to be reinvested in their experience that very same second.”
Johnson added that this use of real-time intelligence is what makes the OceanMedallion the “pinnacle” of personalization at scale. “This fuels our Experiential Internet of Things network which facilitates experiences for guests based on location, personal information they provide and onboard interactions," she said.
Padgett, in a news release, said the cruise line saw a 99% adoption rate of the Medallion tech from guests.
Related Article: 4 Ways the Internet of Things Is Enhancing Customer Experience
Walgreens: Smart Cooler Doors
Retail is no stranger to IoT.
Brands already use the tech for inventory tracking and in-store environment management. Walgreens Boots Alliance — owner of pharmacy chains Walgreens and Boots, as well as several pharmaceutical manufacturing and distribution companies — decided to take it a step further.
In 2019, the company installed IoT-enabled smart displays in the cooler doors of its Chicago stores (and expanded to New York City, Seattle and San Francisco soon after). The goal? To test its ability to show targeted ads to shoppers.
These smart displays, developed by Chicago-based Cooler Screens, include sensors, cameras, screens and facial detection.
The coolers show off the products inside in the best possible light. They also, once sensing a customer approach, serve up ads based on the person’s age, gender and the weather outside.
The tech can even target ads based on what items a customer looked at or picked up. Meaning Walgreens — and advertisers — can determine the success of their campaigns almost immediately.
How have customers responded to the upgrade? Some have called it unnecessary and annoying, with one Twitter user claiming a digital cooler forced them to watch an ad before showing which door had frozen pizzas behind it.
The digital cooler screens at Walgreens made me watch an ad before it allowed me to know which door held the frozen pizzas— Elwood Blues (@ElwoodBluesClue) December 31, 2021
The overall results, however, are positive. Cooler Screens, in a press release, said more than 90% of customers who’ve experienced their smart cooler doors prefer them over traditional doors, and over 80% claimed the tech made it easier to find products.
And only a year after the initial Chicago test, Walgreens found the smart displays boosted sales, and announced another expansion to 2,500 of its US locations.
Jergens Industry Supply: Express Re-Order Buttons
What if you could improve customer experience with the touch of a button? That’s exactly what Jergens Industrial Supply (JIS) did when they gave IoT Express buttons to their vendors.
The buttons, once pressed, send an order to JIS that includes the part number and the amount of product needed.
“Our GM, Matt Schron, discovered the Amazon IoT button for reordering products from Amazon and that is what spurred the idea,” Steven Valentine, inventory management solution manager at JIS, told CMSWire.
“He wondered if this would be a solution we could offer to the manufacturing community,” added Valentine, “and that’s when we started down the road of working with Amazon Web Services to find a path to deployment.”
Since the buttons’ implementation, JIS has seen a 30% increase in productivity, according to a press release, which translates into millions of dollars in savings. The buttons also reduce walk and talk time for employees and decrease time and effort in order processing and customer service.
One of the biggest benefits of the buttons, according to Valentine? It’s cost-effectiveness.
“While there are a lot of great vending solutions out there today, they do come with a substantial cost,” he said, “and sometimes there are opportunities we could not previously entertain due to the high cost of vending equipment compared to the return.”
Moving forward, JIS plans to model its IoT integrations after Amazon. The online retail giant has upgraded its IoT buttons to the Amazon Dash Smart Shelf, a scale-enabled shelf that senses the weight of items and places orders (or sends out notifications) when stock runs low.
“We’re currently waiting for Amazon to open up the Smart Shelf for testing as they did with the IoT button,” said Valentine, “at which point we plan to work with Amazon Web Services again and others to set this new solution up and deploy it.”
Related Article: How Evolving Smart Tech Is Changing the Customer Experience
IHG Hotels & Resorts: Josh-Enabled Smart Rooms
Have you ever had an inconvenient hotel stay? The A/C won’t turn off. You want to watch TV but can’t find the remote. You’re out of towels, but don’t feel like trekking down to the front desk.
IHG Hotels & Resorts plans to eliminate inconvenience — and personalize your stay — with Josh.ai, a privacy-focused AI platform.
Josh, when installed in hotel rooms, acts as an automated voice assistant that can raise and lower blinds, turn on your TV, control the lights and give you information about your stay. Guests can even ask Josh about the local area — like nearby attractions or restaurants.
“From a simplicity perspective,” Casey Levy-Tulloch, manager of business strategy and partnerships at Josh.ai, told CMSWire, “it's a lot easier to say ‘Josh, I'm cold’ than…fiddling with a thermostat on the wall you've never used before. And then break it or mess it up or just give up, and then, you know, sleep and then not be able to sleep all night because you're too hot.”
Equipped with artificial intelligence, Josh learns from its previous interactions to improve future ones. “The whole point of Josh is that as you live with it, it kind of learns and adapts and optimizes your experience,” said Levy-Tulloch.
Josh.ai customers — in this case, IHG — ultimately have control over what data the system collects and who has access to it. And the tech has the potential to point out useful trends and insights. In one example, said Levy-Tullcoh, hotels have tracked when people order room service or ask for menus and used that data to revise their kitchen hours.
“There are insights that can be gained and have been gained around what people want, when they want it. But it's also very much experientially focused,” he said.
Josh sends very little information back to Josh.ai, Levy-Tulloch added. “As far as the data that we do collect, everything is anonymized. At this point in time, there’s no sort of voice recognition to know who the user is who’s talking.”
When it comes to guests, the tech appears to be a hit, with an average of three dozen commands per day in Josh-equipped rooms. The top commands, according to Levy-Tulloch? Controlling lights, music and TV.
Implementing IoT Into Your Business
There you have it, four brands using IoT in four very different ways. And they’re not the only ones:
- Uber uses IoT to power their self-driving cars
- New York City uses IoT to monitor air quality, analyze traffic and maintain water mains
- Walmart uses IoT to control refrigerator temperatures and reduce downtime
- Coca-Cola uses IoT in vending machines to notify managers when stock is low
The takeaway? The Internet of Things offers strategic advantages to any business in any industry. And those advantages all feed into improved customer experiences.