by , , Staff Writer, June 7, 2016

The store of the future will track products along with people.

Products in the pipeline, like at central distribution centers, have been tracked since pretty much forever, in one way or another.

About 10 years ago, Walmart pushed its suppliers to put RFID (radio frequency identification systems) tags on all pallets and cases.

Since then, the price of tags has dropped so much that it’s now becoming practical to include tags on pretty much anything sold in a store.

And if it can be tagged, it can be tracked.

I got a demonstration of some product tagging uses in the potential store of the future yesterday at an exhibit set up at the LiveWorx 16 conference at the Boston Convention Center, where 4,500 people gathered to see what’s coming down the IoT Pike.

The IoT conference and exposition was run by PTC, the IoT platform company noted for its enterprise and manufacturing implementations.

The reality is that while some IoT innovations start in the enterprise, many will be transitioned for use by end consumers, since much of the basics of sensors, data tracking and analytics are the same no matter the use case.

In the connected store I saw, each product had an RFID tag. To read the tags, which include product details and specific location in the store, an overhead antenna roughly the shape and size of a ceiling tile, is installed.

The approach would be well suited for specialty stores, such as a brand apparel location, said Steve Blomberg, product manager at View Technologies, the company that does the in-store antennas.

In the IoT, all products ultimately will be trackable.

For the connected store of the future, this could mean that a trip to a Home Depot, Lowe’s or Target could connect a consumer directly to where a product actually is, rather than where it is supposed tobe

Hopefully, this will end the days of a shopper asking a sales associate if a certain product is in stock only to be told ‘If we have it, it will be out there.’

From a customer service and sales standpoint, a shopper who takes a certain item to a dressing room could be provided a suggestion for a complementing item, since the system in real-timeknows which item is heading to a dressing room, said Kiran Kari, director, SCM business development at PTC.

The even longer-term implications are that the distribution center, store, inventory and in-store pick-up all could be integrated so that customers receive automatic alerts on the status of their products all the way to them, Kari said.

This isn’t the only tagging going on in the market.

For example, packaging and labeling giant Avery Dennison earlier this year partnered with Evrythng, the IoT platform backed by Samsung and Cisco, to add special tagging on products that consumers can interact with via smartphone, as I wrote about here at the time (10 Billion Clothing, Footwear Products Joining The Internet Of Things.)

But that implementation requires an action on the part of a consumer to get the tracking ball rolling.

In the PTC concept store, everything is automated.

The most significant aspect is that tracked products ultimately could be matched to individual people.

A loyalty customer and the product in their shopping cart could be linked, as could be a repeat visit to a store or department, which already is being done, minus the specific product component.

The Internet of Things is about to yet again transform the shopping life cycle.