For cameras, the IoT provides the connections necessary to record, analyse and identify known thieves who might enter your shop. Nick Fisher, chief executive of Facewatch, has high hopes the system could help his company become a major benefit to retailers of all sizes.

He says: “Convenience stores are a significant market for us. They have high footfall, a problem with theft and there are not enough police to help stop it.”

The Facewatch system works by building up a watchlist of those in your area known to shoplift and using an outside camera linked to fast computer connections to let retailers know if someone on the list enters their shop, alerting owners in as little as two seconds, says Fisher.

What does the retailer do then? Generally, simply monitor the potential thief, says Fisher. His advice is to ask them if they need help and then stay close to them, making it clear that any attempted thefts are likely to be observed.

The Facewatch system costs the retailer £200 a month to run, with an expected 25% reduction in pilfering within 90 days, says Fisher.

Perhaps the most disturbing thing about the Facewatch commercial model is that it is based on the assumption that retailers no longer bother calling the police about shoplifters. Fisher, a former retailer himself, says: “There just isn’t enough police resource to help any more. Pinching bacon or meat or whatever just isn’t deemed important enough to send anybody out. The retailers know this and so don’t bother calling the police.”

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The Facewatch system in its present form was set up in 2017 and formally launched last year. Early groups to try it include Budgens and Fisher says he is now talking to other groups and individual independent retailers.

If the IoT can help cut petty theft, it can also help deal with more literal pests. Pest Pulse is a firm using the power of internet connectivity to monitor mouse and rat traps.

Chief executive Brian Monaghan says one of the big advantages is that the firm’s system does not require the regular visits usually operated by the big pest control firms. He explains: “The IoT has changed this because if there is no pest activity, then there is no point in someone coming out. We do four visits per year instead of eight, but if our systems discover any pest activity we come out immediately.”

For the retailer, he adds, one of the big advantages of the internet system is the speed with which a pest issue is identified. He says: “We like to say that customers don’t tell us they have a problem, we tell them.”

If theft and pest control are two of the less savoury issues that can be helped by the IoT, then there are plenty of more positive uses of the technology. Take the self-serve coffee machines many retailers now put in their stores.

The most advanced of these can do a lot more than simply sell you a hot drink. The latest Costa Express smart machine monitors itself for quality, with more than 90 sensors inside it sending information back to the Costa Express headquarters in north London.

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This information also tells the company which types of coffee (eg a medium latte) are popular in each shop and adapt supplies accordingly.

Nick Earle, chairman and chief executive of Eseye, which helped Costa Express develop its latest generation of IoT vending machines, says knowing what particular customers want is the next step in the way these machines will develop.

“Personalisation is what it will be about in future. If people pay with their phones with a QR code, the machine can then track their phone and knows where the buyer is. If you walk in the shop, or even near the shop, it can text you suggesting you might like a coffee.”

Other developments will follow. Earle says that when 5G telephone networks arrive, customers will be able to hold their phone in front of the screen on the vending machine and get information about each product. This might include calories, the source of the coffee beans, and even the carbon footprint of the manufacturing process. To environmentally concerned customers, all this matters.

What do retailers make of all this? It depends who they are, naturally. Rav Garcha, who runs four Nisa stores in the Midlands, is enthusiastic about new technology and has a lot in his shops that is linked to the internet: shelf labels that tell him when stocks are low; temperature monitors in fridges; tablets in store that log staff on and record what they are doing and when. Despite this, he is not an uncritical advocate of the IoT.

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He says: “It’s tricky. You have to relate the technology to the day-to-day job. For it to be useful, you have to make it useful. For example, we have internet-connected media screens in the stores for customer displays [of offers, for example]. That’s all very well, but they need a lot of work. They need changing regularly and we don’t always have the time.”

Garcha adds that getting the latest IoT technology in-store does not always pay dividends. He explains: “Sometimes, you need to learn how to use it best and it takes time. In this sense, there is a first-mover disadvantage.”

by David Harris



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