The internet of things (IoT) is not a technology that's right around the corner. It's here, now. Smart homes integrate everything from inventory tracking for your cupboards to bathtubs that run water at temperatures set for each individual. Along with this interconnected and increasingly intelligent technology comes growth in the AI sector. No, Skynet is not about to descend and cause the end of life as we know it, but artificial intelligence is changing business, sometimes at fundamental levels.
Growth projections for the worldwide internet of things are down a little from the original rosy numbers, but they are still solid with numbers now showing at $561 billion by 2022. Together with the $1.2 trillion predicted for the artificial intelligence market by 2020, the combination shows strong promise and is right in line with original predictions. Along with the growth in IoT devices and AI comes significant changes to ecommerce markets.
Ordering From Home
With the introduction of low-cost home assistants like the Echo, Siri and Google Home, buying home goods is changing. Consumers can open the fridge, notice a low gallon of milk and add another gallon to an Amazon order, all scheduled to be delivered later that day or the next day. This level of integration is indicative of how these devices are changing consumer behavior.
Home assistants are just one example of chatbots, and their capabilities extend far beyond just putting in a grocery order. Making a restaurant reservation, planning a trip and ordering an outfit are all well within the capabilities of these multi-purpose chatbots. Customer service, especially at basic tiers, is rapidly becoming the province of chatbots in a variety of industries.
With consumers carrying a full computer's worth of processing power in their hip pocket, shopping is a nearly unrecognizable experience. Along with the showrooming that is becoming so common in brick-and-mortar stores, apps provide details on lowest advertised prices and stores with an item in stock near a consumer's location. The subscription economy also continues to be a factor, with many consumers moving to that model for everything from socks to shaving cream. Mobile devices are the front line of the internet of things, and their capacity and peripheral devices continue to grow.
Robots in Fulfillment
Amazon employs some 100,000 robots and plans to add many more to the mix as it expands. Robots take over some of the most boring, repetitive, physically tasking and dangerous warehouse jobs. As other fulfillment companies add robotic workers, and robotic automation extends to things like cleaning floors and directing calls, the fear of the robot takeover is easy to understand. However, there is plenty of work for humans in the mix, even in Amazon-automated factories. What will happen is dramatic improvement to efficiencies and better workplace safety for the humans on the line.
One of the biggest barriers to ecommerce is the long-term storage of goods, overstocking and returns. Auto-replenishment programs help reduce the need for overstocking by better predicting consumer demand for specific products. Using big data, machine learning teaches ordering bots what to expect from consumer behavior. Computers can look at buying histories and make highly accurate predictions about sales volumes.
At the fulfillment part of the spectrum, this helps reduce waste. For consumers, smart devices can directly request needed materials. Imagine a washing machine that stores laundry detergent internally. When the tank runs low, consumers get a notice and can automatically order more. Plus, machines will track user habits and be able to predict when an order will be needed in enough time to allow for shipping.
As AI/IoT integration continues, it will likely affect every piece of the supply chain in every industry from manufacturing plant floor to last-mile delivery. Businesses that quickly and reliably adjust to these changes in operations and logistics will be better positioned to resist disruption and deliver faster, more reliable service to their customer base.
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