The fusion of the IoT and digital money tipped to allow FMCG brands to direct sell at scale

From virtual buying assistants like Amazon’s Alexa to cloud currencies, the intersection between connected devices and peoples’ concept of money is set to hand FMCG companies a chance to sell their wares directly to people worldwide at scale.

Ecommerce might not be as sexy as virtual reality or robots but at this year’s CES it’s been the trend that’s grabbed the interest of many marketers The Drum has interviewed. The idea that any device can be used for commerce, from car keys to fridges, coupled with the proliferation of mobile wallets has FMCG companies rethinking how they make money from selling goods online.

Until recently, many of these companies were reluctant to talk too much about the channel, in part due to the implications having direct relationships with consumers would have on their own with the retailers. But with the likes of Amazon, Facebook and Bitcoin disrupting not just the way people purchase goods but how they pay for them, companies including Mondelez and Unilever have been more vocal about its potential all the while accepting that it’s still very early days.

It’s a trend entwined with the connected home, which experts at the tech show claim will hit $65bn this year and $490bn by 2019. All those channels will be capable of moving money around, whether it’s Mastercard’s new tech that effectively allows people to turn any device into a credit card or Samsung’s latest smart fridge that lets people refill their fridge in an intuitive way. What’s more it’s getting easier to expand these connected eco-systems as seen by Amazon’s decision to open up the API for its personal assistant last year. Such moves could affectively pave the way for brands setting up their own storefronts on Amazon backed by the rich data the seller has on its all customers.

“Commerce used to be this push model where the companies selling stuff were really just broadcasting messages that weren’t what people demanded,” said Jason Goldberg, senior vice president of content and commerce at Razorfish.

“When your car can send you an email saying it’s time to change your oil and not just light up on your dashboard when it’s too late then that creates significant new opportunities for commerce."

That traditional dynamic is moving from the suppliers pushing out messages to the consumer automatically to being able to purchase what they need when they need it. And as slow as it will be for that paradigm to shift at scale, change will come sooner rather than later due to the speed of adoption.

“There’s an extraordinary runaway for us to continue to explore this voracious appetite that people have for not necessarily having to be in front of an item when they need to make a purchase,” said Sherri Haymond, group head of digital channels and senior vice president at MasterCard on a panel at CES. For the holiday season, retail sales year on year were between 7 and 8 per cent overall, according to the financial firm but online, which is a combination of mobile, tablet, PC, ect was up 20 per cent and that’s been consistent over the last 24 to 27 months”.

That shift is throwing up all new retail opportunities that Mastercard wants to be at the centre. Advances in augmented reality and artificial intelligence, sharper augmented reality tech and smarter artificial intelligence alongside side developments in biometric authentication mechanisms alongside ubiquitous 3D printing are the top technology horizons the business expects to go mainstream over the next three years.

“While we’re a company that does payments we’re one that’s also embedded in tech,” said Haymond. “We understand that consumers don’t wake up and say ‘I have to make a payment today’ they say ‘I need to get a cup of coffee or I need to make sure that I can get on the train and pay for it. It’s about what’s driving consumer journeys before and after the payment.”

So much disruption is also challenging people’s notion of money, which consequently will allow marketers to take advantage of virtual currencies like Bitcoin or Uphold, a virtual vault that lets people convert Bitcoin into other currencies as well as precious metals like gold.

“If you just believe in a system that in itself is sufficient to create value and so what’s happened is that we’re going from money that we’re born into to money that we believe in,” said Halsey Minor, founder and chairman of Uphold.

“The rhetoric around Bitcoin is about this; there are those that agree and they exchange freely between each other because they believe it has value and there are others who don’t believe it doesn’t have value whatsoever, including a lot of governments.”