When Gartner released their annual study Top 10 Strategic Technology Trends for 2016, Zebra’s APAC senior technical director Wayne Harper saw a number of these as being especially applicable to the retail sector.

Top of Gartner’s trend list is the concept of the ‘Device Mesh’, which the research group says “brings together traditional desktop-centred computing, mobile computing, the Internet of Things and cloud computing in a common, connected framework of endpoints and supporting services.”

Harper demonstrated this capability with a bike purchase example.

“A customer looks to find out if his local sporting goods store has the bicycle he wants. While visiting the store, he realises that he doesn’t have room in his car to bring it home," he explained. “A sales associate uses a mobile device to locate the item in inventory, makes the purchase on the sales floor and schedules for it to be home delivered.

“Today’s customer wants to buy from anywhere, anytime, anyhow – which makes inventory visibility a must,” Harper continued. “Managers will have greater control over stock management, and sales associates can improve sales conversion and fulfilment.”

The Internet of Things brings with it massive amounts of data, creating what Gartner refers to as the ‘Information of everything’.

Such volumes of data require advanced analytics to derive valuable business insight and, according to Harper, is especially important for retail businesses.

“These trends allow managers to make better decisions by providing invaluable information, such as a better understanding of staff location, productivity and degree of customer engagement,” he said.

“These insights directly drive sales through hyper-personalised marketing profiles and offers.”

Gartner’s list is rounded out with ‘IoT architecture and platforms’. According to Harper, developing a retail platform that will contain IoT components requires a rethink of traditional practices to strike a balance between ease of access, agility and performance with security, privacy and cost concerns.

This balance is critical as bricks-and-mortar stores are locked in a battle for the customer dollar, and need to push the envelope to entice patrons through their doors. At the same time, cost constraints require retailers to do more with less.

Harper said that with the right mix of cost-effective technologies, store operators could find a place in today’s retail landscape by focusing on the needs of its customers and proving themselves to be a vital link in the value chain.

“Linking both traditional and emerging storefronts and ensuring seamless retail experiences will ensure the survival and viability of retail operations.”

Wireless connectivity plays a key role in providing that retail experience, Harper said, and its impact now extends beyond store staff to the customers themselves.

“A store’s Wi-Fi was originally built for accommodating corporate devices and perhaps providing guest access,” he said.

“Retailers now want to deploy micro-location technology throughout the store. Retailers now need to ensure networks support a new business requirement while still providing a reliable ecosystem for customers to leverage their mobile technology.”

For Zebra’s part, Harper said, the company has been combining the ‘Device Mesh’ technologies for many years to help retailers streamline operations and provide a omnichannel experience for customers.