Will battery power energize retailing performance?
Battery technology has continually powered evolutionary change across all aspects of society, ever since Italian physicist Alessandro Volta invented the very first battery in 1800. More recently, Apple’s introduction of the iPhone in 2007 and other battery powered devices have forever changed the retail landscape. Right now, battery-powered devices are the unsung heroes of an ongoing digital revolution that includes electric vehicles, drones and the vast spectrum of Internet of Things (IoT) devices. Estimates put the number of connected devices in the world today at 50 billion.
We live in a nanosecond world where batteries have fueled shopper expectations for mobility, immediacy, flexibility, transparency and sustainability along the entire shopping journey. Almost every aspect of our lives is facilitated by a connected mobile device. How many of us long for the day when our mobile device will last an entire week before needing to be recharged?
Evolving shopper expectations continue to drive retailers to adapt. Merchants, knowing the continuing value and importance of the physical store to success, are constantly challenged to match e-commerce strategies with in-store experiences. To that end, retailers have been experimenting with and testing a wide array of in-store technologies, including digital signage, electronic shelf labels (ESLs), radio frequency identification (RFID) technology, video analytics, robotics, beacons and automated check-out. Just think of all the technologies required to deliver the “Amazon Go” automated store experience.
While wireless data transmission and communication have become ubiquitous, many technologies require AC-power and are therefore constrained by access to 120V — a rare luxury in a large store. The operational and infrastructure constraints as well as the installation and implementation costs associated with powering in-store technologies have limited their acceptance and use. The cost of running a single AC-power drop to a specific floor location can be $1,200 – $1,500.
Many European retailers, including Carrefour, Marks & Spencer and SPAR, have adopted the use of battery powered ESLs and E-ink (digital paper) because of their respective sustainability benefits. Many other battery-powered devices are focused on improving supply chain efficiencies and addressing retail’s operational challenges and, if the past is any indicator, we’re just getting started.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: In what ways do you believe new battery and wireless power technologies will influence retailing in the near- and longer term? Are there any specific applications that you think hold the biggest potential — supply chain, marketing, customer experience, store operations, etc.?