We just had our Labor Day weekend in America. That means the end of summer, back to school, and fall is fast approaching. For retailers—that means it’s the beginning of the fourth quarter, and last minute preparations for Halloween, Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and the final Christmas shopping push rounding out the end of the year.
Retailers are in a highly competitive environment. Vying for customers is one thing—but so too is remaining profitable. This means the retailer will need to be concerned with customer service, as they must compete with online services like Amazon. They must implement the most efficient inventory and cost cutting strategies possible. Retailers are looking toward technology to help them remain competitive. And blockchain is high on their minds.
Retailers are looking at how blockchain can assist customer service from payment systems with cryptocurrency, to loyalty programs, customer tracking and more. Blockchain has the ability to manage inventory from supply chain, to smart contracts, to the Internet of Things (IoT).
Writing for Forbes, Nikki Baird has identified a number of use cases for retail. She notes that blockchain can be used to improve customer service with loyalty programs, coupons, and much more.
Loyalty Programs. We get them all the time—points—for using credit cards, or a particular travel web site where we can accrue points toward our next hotel stay. These are loyalty programs. My favorite ones are the business cards with “buy 10, and get one free offer”. Blockchain can be used as a way to give consumers a reward for their purchases. Retailers are faced with customers who’ve learned how to game the system. In many cases consumer points are stolen. Thus, blockchain can render that kind of fraud more difficult. Other examples may include awarding a consumer with cryptocurrency tokens.
Coupons. One of my favorite coupons to use is Best Buy. Of course, they have liberal coupon policies where I can use them well beyond the expiration date. On other occasions, the counter clerk will give me a coupon. However, not all stores are so generous and are looking for ways to better control them. Baird says that MasterCard has a patent for a “coupon system based on blockchain.” It is one example on how to control the distribution and use of coupons.
Customer Identity. Retailers who can leverage a customer’s identity and profile will have a better chance of being able to market to that customer. Many consumers enjoy giving a company their own data, and willingly share it with retailers. With blockchain, the consumer can opt in to share whatever they designate. On the flip side, retailers can use IoT to gather data. One example is where IOTA created a “data marketplace” where consumers can upload streams of data coming from sensors, while others can subscribe and data stream their own data.
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Blockchain: Inventory Use Case
Keeping a close eye on inventory is one area where retailers can improve with technology. Not only from an inventory control basis, but also from supply chain issues, to provenance issues where concerns for child labor laws and other social issues may be involved.
IoT. One blockchain use case is the IoT for tracking products. Claire Swedberg (RFID Journal) reports that livestock companies are piloting supply chain-as-a-service platform. She says that “blockchain and radio frequency identification (RFID) technologies are converging.” A blockchain platform is being used with Smartrac’s UHF RFID readers and tags to give companies the ability to track goods “on an immutable public ledger.”
Others have noted that many companies are looking at technology to manage data on goods that move from the source to consumer. With RFID in a blockchain ecosystem, this can be a game changer and help automate data capture. It has the ability to connect the “physical with the digital world, so it’s a key component of our supply chain platform.”
With blockchain coupled with NFC tags or QR codes—consumers will be able to scan a product label and have immediate access to product information. The end-customer can then use his or her smartphone or other device and be directed to more product information.
The consumer can now have a full description of the product and provenance—making the customer a more informed consumer. Baird notes that blockchains designed to accept RFID generated data will make it easier for IoT devices to write to blockchains. The retailer will “have a way to make supply chain and inventory tracking easier.”
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Product Contracts. Retailers can now improve their ordering and inventory management with smart contracts. Smart contracts can be made to “govern the source, manufacturing, and delivery of goods,” says Baird.
Payment agreements are created and attached to the smart contract—providing a payment release when stated objectives are met. Terms may include delivery of the design, goods, or when deliverable dates are met. Smart contracts terms are established up front. As conditions are met, the smart contract will automatically execute the terms.
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For me as a consumer, I am always interested in keeping the cost of a product down. I’m also interested in finding new products and deals. With blockchain’s services such as IoT, Smart Contracts, and customer focused applications—retailers are poised to meet consumer needs in a brand new way—and I will be able to find deals and new products with which I can impress my nephews and nieces this Christmas.
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