Clicks vs Bricks. Drones. One hour online deliveries. The death of the high street as we know it… It’s fair to say that the retail industry has undergone a huge amount of change at the hands of technology over the last ten years.
A large part of this transformation lays on Amazon’s doorstep, as it gobbles up traditional retailers like Wholefoods and invests heavily in voice assistants and AI in the race to be the world’s first trillion dollar company. But away from the tech seen by consumers blockchain is playing a quiet but crucial role in the future of retail.
Of course, the natural logical step when you consider blockchain and retail is to think of cryptocurrency. Whilst there are blockchain firms targeting the ecommerce market with crypto offerings, blockchain’s role in retail is not simply about coins, it runs much deeper. Blockchain is already revolutionising the supply chain, preventing fraud and boosting business’s back offices – improving workplace productivity in the process. In this way blockchain is paving the way for the future of retail.
Clocking on to blockchain
Blockchain is helping transform the back end of retail businesses. Smart contracts, which digitally verify an action on the blockchain and can’t be tampered by third parties, can help improve employee efficiency and streamline HR processes. Digitising repetitive data-heavy tasks such as payroll allows teams to get quicker and more accurate results, allowing them to focus on more strategic (and dare I say, human) roles like expanding their sales network, investing more in their customer relationships and meeting new suppliers.
As store staff clock in for a shift, time-stamped contracts help provide tamper free tracking, ensuring watertight reporting and making workforce planning and managing absenteeism far easier. Ordinarily this would be very time intensive, especially for retailers with stores in every corner of the globe. Blockchain makes this instantaneous and all this is made possible by the interaction of IoT devices with all types of blockchains.
Smart contracts can also be used to trigger events during the workday at a granular and hyper-local level. Has your Manchester store just sold the last pair of size 11 Nikes? Are they making more sales this week than the central London store? If so, why? The blockchain can show where stock is and where sales are made on a second by second basis, not day by day. This allows head office to compare stores on a like for like basis, in real time, meaning they can flex stock and staff to ensure each store is as efficient, productive and profitable as possible.
Blockchain is stamping out retail fraud
Tech is a great retail enabler. As a result consumers now demand their products quicker than ever before and the supply chain has had to keep pace as a direct consequence. Speed of delivery is one thing, but blockchain is also already helping retailers ensure their products are what they say they are.
This is especially relevant for food suppliers where the source and age of fresh produce is of paramount importance, but can be open to tampering. One example is how supermarket retailers can now track the journey of fish, from sea to shelf, via an IoT sensor tagged QR code and an app, all thanks to blockchain’s chronological digital record. Large retailers have noted it previously took food inspectors seven days to track the source of a meat, thanks to blockchain retailers can now do it in 2 seconds. Also, once a transaction is made on the blockchain, it gets time stamped. From that moment on the information can’t be tampered with anymore.
Time stamps, IoT sensors and smart contracts are also being used to stamp out retail fraud and boost consumer confidence. Louis Vuitton is using it to curb the counterfeiting of luxury handbags, making its supply chain 100% transparent. At each stage of production and delivery the QR code needs to be scanned to confirm an action has been completed. What if a factory worker has just attached handles? Scan the code. A shipment has just arrived in store? Scan the code. Consumers can also do this for their own reassurance that they’ve bought a genuine item.
De Beers is turning to blockchain with the same method to guarantee the purity of its diamonds. This has a huge impact on social responsibility (as well as their public brand perception) as it’s making a positive move to help eliminate the trade in blood diamonds.
‘A local shop for local people’ blockchain makes retail more personal
The ideal of the village shop where the owner knows what newspaper or type of milk you’ll buy before you reach the counter still stands. People demand the personal in retail and still crave the human connection they get in store.
The rise of the robots will transform warehouses and the supply chain but I genuinely believe robots won’t take over a shop floor soon, as consumers will always want human interactions. As such retail brands will go back to their roots, focus on their company stories and re-assert what they stand for. Blockchain will make retailers more transparent and will ensure the logistics of the business become more efficient. Store staff will become less transactional, instead becoming brand ambassadors in charge of managing relationships with customers.
Consumers have more choice where and who they buy from, and are far more attuned to social and environmental issues than ever before. The future of retail simply won’t be about moving units, it’ll be about brands who can prove their worth on a socially consciousness and ethical level. There are already ample examples of this move, with retailers like Esprit and Abercrombie & Fitch going back to their roots and turning red figures back to black in the process.
Blockchain makes each aspect of running a business easier so retailers can focus more attention on their number one priority, their customers.
Sourced by Peter Van Ostaeyen, business consultant and blockchain specialist at SD Worx.