A patent filing by Wal-Mart reveals that the retailer could be developing an IoT-based device that tracks how shoppers use products in their homes and then electronically reorders merchandise.
The retailer’s proposed device relies on IoT tags, said Chain Storage Age, which could be comprised of Bluetooth, RFID, infrared, or NFC, among other technology options. Besides monitoring product usage, this smart tag would be programmed to automatically re-order merchandise, as well as track expiration dates and product recalls, according to the patent filing, called “Retail subscription in Internet of Things environment.”
Wal-Mart’s approach is to put a “modern spin” on subscription services. “Previous generations enjoyed some subscription services, such as the daily receipt of fresh milk from a local farm by a mailman,” the patent reported. “Modern subscription services include the use of computers and the Internet, where a consumer can order online a subscription of goods ranging from wine to razors to the book-of-the-month, which may be shipped from the factory to the consumer’s home.”
"The technology would directly compete with Amazon’s vast portfolio of Dash buttons," said Chain Store Age. The Wi-Fi connected devices, which are dedicated to a specific brand, enable Prime members to stock up on merchandise from the brand simply by pushing the button. Product is automatically re-ordered from Amazon.com, and shipped free with Prime shipping. The online retailer currently features a fleet of more than 300 branded buttons.
Unlike Amazon’s trademark, Wal-Mart’s smart device won't require shoppers to push a button to initiate their re-orders. Specifically, the retailer’s proposed device will “associate a tag with items, [be] a tracking device for collecting data on the tags associated with the items, and a management system that monitors changes in the use of items, including analyzing use patterns to determine when items should be replenished, replaced or upgraded.”
Wal-Mart's device would offer retailer’s convenience, which is a pillar of retail success, reported Retail Dive. "Thanks to the digital versions, Dash buttons are no longer limited to customers who ask for them. To make it even easier to access and manage, Amazon is providing an “Add to your Dash buttons” notice on the page of any eligible product," the article said, noting that "Wal-Mart appears to be going after similar ground, though it's unclear how much consumers would appreciate the major incursion into their homes."