As the cloud services and smart city concepts mature, the consumers' shopping behaviors have also gradually been transformed. For retailers, in addition to improving service performances through establishing point of sales (POS) systems, the POS systems have also been transformed from simple sales applications to those combined with more intelligent value-added applications as well as vertically integrated with various operators or services to provide better shopping experiences through the smart POS.
As the smart city concept continues to mature, the POS applications that are meant to improve the sales process have also begun to undergo smart qualitative changes. CH Wu, Vice President, Intelligent Service Business Group, Advantech, indicated that the value of the POS equipment that previously focused on the retail end of e-support has continued to increase in lie with smartization. Smart function integration can serve as a tool to maintain consumer loyalty and combine cloud services to provide more value-added services to retailers.
The Number of Embedded Devices has Exploded and Become the New Portal for Smart Devices
Wu indicated that there will be an estimated 1.9 billion computer systems, 2.6 billion mobile phone devices, and 25 billion embedded devices worldwide by 2020. Compared to the global population, 2.6 billion mobile phones are far lower the number of people in the world, but those who own mobile phones almost have two per person. Some analysts even estimate that the number of embedded smart devices may even exceed 50 billion units.
Under the smart city boom and the development of the corresponding Internet of Things (IoT) applications, smart devices are everywhere in our lives and embedded devices have become an unstoppable trend. So, how would they affect our lives? Wu indicated that a significant amount of smart devices are connected to an even bigger number of devices through the IoT, and the industry is provided with a foundation to develop innovative application services whereby the software and hardware are combined through the cloud services under the smart city boom. Against such a backdrop, it is most imperative for industry players to work out ways to combine their software and hardware into smart application services for the smart city.
In the Future, Smart Devices Will Become Ubiquitous in Our Lives
Under the condition where a significant number of smart devices have penetrated our living environment, the coverage of smart devices has far exceeded that of the IT equipment or products in the past and has enabled more people to receive services from smart devices. No matter where they are - on a bus, in the hospital, or in a store - people in a smart city can obtain the required services through the smart devices and embedded computing equipment. This also illustrates the importance of the innovative value-added services created through the vertical integration of the different industries in a smart city.
The key IoT network technology used to construct the smart city information network will also create more innovative value-added services from the interconnectivity between and integration of the devices. This will also force a significant amount of business models to shift towards smartization. In terms of the retail industry, how online-to-offline (O2O) operations are conducted or how sales can be combined with online services, will affect the consumers' shopping habits and behaviors. During the "iPlanet Paradigm Shift" for the next decade, the anticipated trend for the future of smart cities is that "services" will replace "products" as the mainstream needs. Under the smart city trend, various industrial solutions will also flourish in smart cities and the interconnection as well as integration of smart devices will produce innovative services that can dramatically change the existing modes of operation for various industries.
Corresponding Qualitative Changes for the Retail Sector under the Smart City Development
According to a 2014 report issued by the Retail Tech Sales on 4,100 different retailers' investments on IT equipment in 2014, 38% will invest in traditional POS, 48% in mobile POS, and 39% in non-POS hardware. It is estimated that the investments in non-POS will be used to create value-added integration for mobile applications. Analyzing the software investment data, the same research report indicates that POS software investments still account for the largest part at 44%, while 44% of the investments will be in mobile POS software. The results show that the retail sector has begun to increase their investments in mobile applications.
The increase of consumers' mobility indicates that data flow for the consumer environment has become smoother. However, the increasing number of available information channels for the consumers also means reduced consumer loyalty. The more smart city applications are available, the more complicated for the retailers to conduct marketing and maintain consumer loyalty. Therefore, how to retain the customers and attract them to the store and do shopping has become critical issues for the retail industry.
The Smart POS Investment: From Reducing Spending to Expanding Resources
The retail industry's paradigm shift under the smart city boom indicates that focus on investment in constructing POS has been gradually transitioning from how labor costs can be reduced to how more business opportunities can be created. For example, the retail sector has focused on how to reduce expenditure in the past, but the retail trend has begun to shift the focus to looking for more resources and conducting effective marketing operations to stimulate demand. The sudden changes in the retailers' investment ratios confirm the fact that the industry has started to pay attention to this future trend.
In this wave of smartization, POS has also moved towards the direction of constant evolution to keep up with the smart retail trends. For example, the new generation of intelligent POS can already be integrated with the cloud services, transaction automation, promotions anytime, and MI collection; they can also support near field communication (NFC), multi-touch screens, multi-network connectivity, remote access, cloud services, etc., in terms of technical integration.
Major POS Industries in Europe Invest Heavily to Change the Shopping Experiences
Wu has attended the largest exhibition (EuroShop) in Europe recently and found that the major manufacturers that provide corresponding smart retailer solutions have begun to shift their product concepts towards smartization and mobililty. Many industry players have shifted the focus of their products or solution R&D to enhancing the consumer experiences in virtual stores. How to give consumers better and more timely shopping experiences has become the focus of development for the retail solutions providers. As a smart retail solutions provider, Advantech has established a variety of smart retail service solutions that can satisfy the consumers' demands.
For example, Advantech has introduced smart POS retail service solutions, digital signage systems, and a new generation of smart kiosk equipment that can integrate the membership system, smart monitoring system, cloud-based central monitoring, and remote data analysis, etc. Advantech's products and solutions are better than those created by others behind closed doors without knowing what customers need. Advantech knows that it must have a deep understand of what applications the customers want in order to satisfy their needs through a variety of smart technologies and hardware integrations.
Wu indicated that Advantech has various product lines, such as the traditional POS, kiosks, and digital signage products that will satisfy the demand for system integration, as well as basic applications and cloud service support solutions with hardware-software integration. In addition to industrial computers, the company's other products include the queuing systems that are popular in China, and smart POS systems. For chain store solutions, there are integrated POS systems that can integrate the central management functions; they can even perform value-added remote management and analysis. In Taiwan, Advantech's solutions have been adopted by the management of Taipei 101, Far Eastern shopping malls, Din Tai Fung dumpling houses, and Giant bicycle stores.
CH Wu, Vice President, Intelligent Service Business Group, Advantec