From wearable technology to monitoring devices to things we haven’t even dreamt up yet, the Internet of Things (IoT) is on its way toward revolutionizing the way we live our lives, how we seamlessly integrate technology into our days, and for those of us in the market research industry, certainly how we do research and what data we have available to us.
Technology pundits definitely have high hopes for the IoT. An analyst firm called Gartner, Inc., for example, predicts that there will be 26 billion IoT devices by 2020. This prediction is not too far-fetched, seeing as the annual growth rate for semiconductors used in IoT networks was 5% between the years 2010 and 2013. And by 2015, there were an estimated 10 billion IoT devices.
Many pundits have gone as far as to say that the IoT is the Fourth Industrial Revolution, centering on the conversion of digital, human, and physical domains. If things continue as they are, it will certainly be the greatest integration of technology into our day-to-day lives. Already in 2017, consumers can monitor their energy use, light usage, food consumption, and even weight loss via devices that automatically upload data to the internet.
The Internet of Things refers to the system of digital sensors and computing components which connect objects (things) like those mentioned above to the internet. The sensors collect and transfer data, providing usage information and monitoring capabilities to consumers and providing data about usage and user behavior to companies that can be turned into actionable insights. According to the Q3-4 2016 GRIT Report from Greenbook, the Internet of Things is growing in consideration by Market Research suppliers and buyers alike, with 39% either having already adopted or currently considering this method for collecting data.
One of the most interesting things about the IoT is that, unlike many novel technologies, it has not disrupted, but rather has majorly benefitted some old school industries rather than only new tech companies. For example, one of the earliest and most ubiquitous applications is in the energy sector. Sensors in the electricity grid can monitor peak times and downtimes, helping energy companies adjust distribution flows. This innovation improves things for consumers, producers of energy, and supply companies, as well as the researchers that have access to the data.
However, there are certainly instances where technology companies are using the IoT for their new products or services as well. Take smart thermostat, Nest, for example. Nest uses sensors to detect the temperature in your home. The accrual of data from these sensors also means that the “smart” technology from Nest can actively learn the temperatures you prefer, making it easy to automatically adjust the heat. Furthermore, sensors can detect when no one is home and can lower the heat or turn itself off to save on heating costs. Nest, and its parent company, Alphabet Inc (Google), also have the potential to use and sell this data to understand energy usage by geography or other demographics.
Since the IoT is still in its initial phases, many of the predictions for its use are centered on tangible uses for “things,” like with Nest. However, there are marketers who have witnessed the power of the IoT and are looking to use it for market research, and it’s easy to see why. Insights Association says of the IoT, “The drips of data they [sensors] emit will aggregate into a raging torrent of information that must be stored and analyzed, sometimes in near real-time.” This is a big data market researcher’s dream come true.
With this “raging torrent of information,” market researchers have the ability to conduct real-time, insightful research from the data that sensors pick up. In a nutshell, the IoT allows for a web of connectivity of communication between brand and consumer, brand and object, consumer and object, and object and object. There are a number of ways that these connections can be leveraged to conduct market research and to better understand consumers.
A practical use for leveraging IoT in market research is by using sensors to track consumer behavior in real-time. For example, sensors in store shelves can sense when a customer is lingering near a product or they can record how often a product is picked up or set back down. Amazon, is famously using this type of technology in its newest concept store in Seattle, where consumers are able to pay for products they walk out of the store with without having to go through a checkout process.
Additionally, cameras and sensors in stores can be used to track shopper pathways through the store, similar to what Eye Faster CEO Kirk Hendrickson discusses in a column for Apparel Magazine. Having a constant eye on customer behavior means that market researchers can analyze behavior, and adjust marketing plans or store layouts based on hard data. These sensors allow store designers to understand how traffic flows through the store and ensure that the most important products are placed in front of where the most shoppers will be.
While time will time if it’s truly as revolutionary as we believe it to be, the IoT is just emerging as the next big thing. It will touch a variety of industries, connecting people, things, and brands. Now is the time for market researchers to start thinking outside the box on how they can leverage this insightful technology to understand consumer behavior and turn a torrent of data into results.