3 Ways Industry 4.0 Will Impact Retail

by Greg Kaminsky

As Industry 4.0 unfolds into the rise of smart, advanced manufacturing, many industries will be forever changed by new technologies that help to further optimize business operations. When we think of retail and fast fashion, images of shopping, trendy styles, and social media influencers may come to mind. But behind the scenes, manufacturers are putting together product collections that designers create using materials sourced from a global network of suppliers, within increasingly tight deadlines and evolving consumer preferences. Complex as it may currently seem, several emerging technologies are poised to have a significant impact on the retail industry and the way that products are designed and developed.

Internet of Things (IoT)

From optimizing the layout of smart, connected stores to better theft prevention using RFID tags, there are a growing number of use cases for the IoT in retail. Improving inventory levels becomes much easier when the task of checking inventory is automated by IoT computing. A system of alerts can be setup to ensure that hot selling items be restocked appropriately, and connectivity to PLM systems means faster time to value when orchestrating supply chains.

Elsewhere, IoT-enabled predictive analytics can provide retailers with actionable insights to guide their business decisions by quickly connecting and visualizing data across various systems. Applying machine learning to IoT data allows retailers to sense trends and respond proactively, giving them a competitive edge built upon data and a better understanding of their customer.

3D printing

One of the Industry 4.0 technologies that could be the most potentially disruptive to retail is 3D printing. Instead of guessing which styles will be the most successful and then producing a set number of garments and apparel to stock in-store and online inventories, 3D printing allows the customer to select certain designs, or create the designs themselves, and then have their item made for them. This concept of buying the product before it’s created would flip the manufacturing process on its head, eliminating waste and overstock/understock issues. Ministry of Supply is already experimenting with this model, which could lead to retailers investing in the tech first, and the inventory second.  


Robots can also help to improve inventory levels in-store, and many big box retailers are already using robotics to automate warehouse processes like packing and handling items. As the use of robotics becomes more mainstream, shoppers will expect to see and interact with robots as part of the brick-and-mortar shopping experience. They can serve a number of functions, from helping shoppers to locate items and assisting with checkouts, to monitoring inventory and stocking shelves.

As with smart, connected devices and 3D printing machines, the use of robotics in retail will generate vast amounts of data that can be used to better understand customer preferences and help retailers provide a more engaging experience. The key is to harness that data and turn it into actionable insight that offers a unique advantage.

To learn more about why retailers are turning to the Internet of Things, machine learning, and predictive analytics, download this free gifographic.