The Internet of Things: What’s the opportunity for e-commerce?

TL;DR Our use of voice assistants is on the rise, voice sales are predicted to rise sharply over the next few years and companies are benefiting from improved supply chain management. The Internet of Things is changing our daily lives and new e-commerce opportunities are beginning to open up

The Internet of Things (noun): the interconnection via the Internet of computing devices embedded in everyday objects, enabling them to send and receive data.

There it is: the dictionary definition of a term which has made its way into everyday language…but, practically, what does this mean for consumers and e-commerce businesses?

In theory, it means we’ll never run short of toilet paper or milk again (although another world pandemic might have other ideas) and we’ll be using virtual shopping and travel assistants to get the perfect outfit and find the ideal family holiday for the right price.

Hyper personalised, based on behaviour and past activity and even what’s running low in our fridges and smart kitchen appliances.

If you’re a technology advocate, comfortable with sharing your data, the opportunities are exciting and will thrill your inner geek.

The challenge, therefore, becomes how e-commerce brands can benefit from this futuristic direction and take advantage of the new opportunities presented in such areas as voice search and connected home devices.

“Alexa, buy my wife a birthday present”

Voice-assisted shopping is predicted to hit $40billion by 2022 and could well mark the next big wave in retail.

Consumers are already becoming comfortable with syncing shopping lists to virtual assistants such as Amazon Alexa and the Amazon Prime Now platform offers same-day delivery for groceries, electronics and gifts.

The service is available across a number of cities and towns in the UK but we’re not quite in the era of never being short of milk and loo roll just yet.

There’s a £15 minimum order on Prime Now and a delivery charge of £3.99 on orders under £40; above that and delivery is free. With such a minimum order, you’re going to have to order a hell of a lot of milk to get it when you need it.

Maybe we’ll soon be witnessing the renaissance of the milkman, an Amazon service delivering those small parcels of essentials as and when we ask Alexa.

At the moment, Amazon is dominating this space. It spotted an opportunity in the groceries industry, acquired Whole Foods Market for $13.7 billion and, in the UK, Morrisons only recently extended its online service with Prime.

The Echo Look – currently unavailable although Amazon has dismissed suggestions that it has been discontinued – takes photos and videos of your outfit and consumers can receive style advice while then receiving recommendations to update their wardrobes.

Combining those recommendations with your previous purchases, what you have viewed and what others have bought would present a truly personalised experience for any Amazon shopper.

But at the moment a fair amount of what is being done through so-called smart technology seems somewhat gimmicky.

Do we really need fridges to be able to tell us when we’re running low on cucumber or talk to a pressure cooker through an Alexa app? Gadgets can be fun but they don’t necessarily help us lead better lives.

Using artificial intelligence to help solve real-world problems, such as saving your skin when you forget your spouse’s birthday or reducing the amount of water we all use is when we really begin to see the big benefits.

Looking back to look forward

Of course it’s not just Amazon in the virtual assistant space. Fierce rival Google has its own pretender to the throne and it has the super-power of the world’s leading search engine to call on as well.

While Amazon is likely to continue to dominate with e-commerce products, there are other areas in which Google is more than capable of dominating.

Motorists have become reliant on Google Maps to help take them on the quickest journey from point A to point B, avoiding tailbacks in the process.

And all it takes is a little bit of lateral thinking to see how Google’s virtual assistant could play a major part in some key life decisions.

For example, posing the question ‘find me a family holiday for a week in June’ could be the beginning of a journey which ends with a personal recommendation for your much-needed summer break.

Along the way, the virtual assistant could scour the web hunting out good deals, asking questions about your preferred location, type of accommodation and budget.

The deeper you go, the more refined the selection becomes and it potentially removes what can be a laborious task conducted on a computer where search engine rankings can often mean consumers receiving an imperfect set of results.

This could also benefit smaller online travel companies who might find it impossible to compete with the bigger tourism players when it comes to SEO or PPC but could actually be the perfect fit for your family’s holiday requirements.

Google continually wants to deliver a better user experience but it also wants to carry on making huge sums of money so even if the above example could be something we see in the future, you might need to put up with the odd paid-for placement to appear in the recommendations your assistant comes back with.

What does this mean for an e-commerce business?

While the potential for consumers is almost endless, the big question is how can e-commerce brands benefit from the Internet of Things?

A number of behind-the-scenes initiatives have already been rolled out by some companies.

Automatic restocking of popular products and ensuring warehouses never run low can be carried out through the use of IoT sensors.

The state of perishable items being shipped can be monitored and business decisions then taken accordingly without the need for manual checking, and delivery times, using data captured from weather forecasts or traffic updates, become more accurate.

Supply chains can be better managed, improving operational efficiency and keeping customers happier.

On the front-end, apps have now become available on Shopify to allow store owners to directly sell via Alexa.

The BluTag Alexa skill builder allows merchants to pick up to three products to sell, publish an Alexa skill, test and then submit for certification into the Alexa Skill Store.

This allows sellers to potentially get ahead of the game, build enhanced awareness of their brand and products and reach new customers.

And while those smart kitchen appliances might not appear to be all that practical at the moment, savvy partnerships could prove fruitful for e-commerce brands. Your fridge telling you that you’re running low on white wine? How about an automatic order of a case from the fridge brand’s wine merchant partner?


In an always-connected world, consumers are already taking advantage – by ensuring their house is at the perfect temperature when they return home from a winter’s day out or by reducing the time spent on a long car journey.

Voice shopping is predicted to boom over the next couple of years and expect to see the likes of Amazon and Google become even more dominant as they open up more possibilities for us all to save time in our hectic lives.

How the virtual shopping experience will change is both unknown and exciting but its growth is something e-commerce businesses should be taking note of.

Get on board now and you could be in for one hell of a ride.

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