Blockchained Society — Part 3: The Future of Shopping and Retail
Blockchained Society is a series of articles about some practical use-cases of blockchain technology (and others). For every article, we zoom in on ONE possible application of the technology and try to envision how it would change society as we know it, through storytelling and hand-drawn illustrations. We publish a new one every week, so stay tuned by following me on Medium! Text by Deniz Yilmaz, illustrations by Niels Sinke. [DUTCH VERSION HERE]
Meet Jill; a teenager from Rotterdam and a true fashionista. Over the years she has developed a very specific clothing style and — through that — developed a specific love for certain fashion brands and stores. Among those fashion stores is Qrimark, a big clothing retailer.
Today is a special day for Jill; Qrimark is opening a brand new store in the city of Rotterdam! It’s been hyped for months now and it’s supposed to be the biggest and most high-tech clothing store ever opened.
A year ago, Qrimark got under fire after news broke that their clothing was manufactured through child labor without them knowing about it. In fact, the company almost went bankrupt the months after the news broke, since no one wanted to buy anymore.
To prevent further incidents like these, Qrimark heavily invested in sustainable supply chain development. They incorporated Waltonchain; a blockchain solution that aims to bring full transparency to supply chains through traceability. This enables companies to know how and where their products were created and under which circumstances.
The Waltonchain platform leverages blockchain technology and tiny RFID chips to create a “Value Internet of Things”. The system works as follows: Every RFID chip contains a unique hash that corresponds with an entry on the blockchain. The hash on the RFID chip serves as the unique identifier of the item and replaces things like barcodes and QR codes. The chip is very tiny, so it can be seamlessly incorporated in the products.
All items that contain a Waltonchain RFID chip— such as clothing, electronic devices and other types of goods — become fully traceable, because every single interaction with the item in the supply chain is registered on the blockchain and becomes immutable. This breadcrumb trial of transactions shows exactly where, when and by who the items were handled before it ended up in the store.
Back to Jill; the store finally opened after waiting in line for hours, and she’s already frantically shopping. She likes the technological innovations that are incorporated through the store. Every time she grabs something from the clothing rack, a display immediately shows fashion model photos and information about price, materials and provenance of the clothing item. This also works when she takes multiple items off the rack simultaneously; all items and the corresponding information gets listed on the display next to her.
Jill fell in love with a t-shirt, but she couldn’t find the right size on the rack. She takes one off the rack and the display immediately shows her which sizes are available, how many are in stock and also on which clothing racks they are located. No more questions like “do you have this in size x-small?”.
The t-shirt Jill’s about to buy is part of a new clothing line. Qrimark launched this clothing line to showcase the possibilities of this new technology by focusing on the “journey” of the piece of clothing. Where do the materials come from? Which companies and which persons were involved in the fabrication of the item and what’s their story? Qrimark collected interviews, photos and stories from within the supply chains of these fashion items and made them accessible to the end consumer of the fashion item.
After two intense hours of shopping, Jill ended up with six items she wants to buy. She puts them in a bag and walks out of the store, since payment is fully automated. No more cash registers, no more receipts; the total amount is automatically taken from her personal cryptocurrency wallet.
Qrimark managed to bring extra value to the customer by also implementing the Waltonchain platform in their retail stores. They installed RFID scanners in their clothing racks, fitting rooms and near the store exits. Because all items are indivually traceable, every single interaction can be registered. For example, a transaction is generated whenever an item is taken off the rack, brought to the fitting room etc. This enables powerful features, such as real time stock information and automatic payments. In this example, Jill’s order was automatically processed through the use of the RFID chips in hew new clothes, RFID scanners in the store and facial recognition technology.
Just when Jill exits the store, she is passes by a delivery guy carrying some big boxes full of clothing. She watches as he walks to the back of the store and asks a store employee to check in the delivery. The employee grabs some kind of scanner-gun, points it at the boxes and — after hearing a reassuring bleep — shakes the hand of the delivery guy.
Jill thought that was so cool! She used to work in a clothing store a few years ago and she clearly remembers the agony of scanning every individual item when a shipment came in. She’s happy to see that the technological innovations used doesn’t only benefit the end consumer, but the store employees and couriers as well!
The Waltonchain platform doesn’t only enable efficiency features for the end consumer, but for the whole supply chain as well. Since all items are individually traceable and can be scanned wirelessly — through RFID technology — the shipments can be scanned in bulk as soon as they enter and leave a factory. All these interactions are registered in the blockchain, which creates a detailed record for every single item that passed through the supply chain.
Waltonchain also creates huge amounts of data in-store, such as “grab rate” (how many times an item is grabbed off the rack) and “return rate” (how often a specific item is returned to the store). This data — even though it’s anonymized — is of tremendous value to the supply chain, because it can be used it to create better products. For example: stores can see which item sizes are in highest demand in a certain city, which allows them to optimize stocks. Clothing designers can see which t-shirt designs are grabbed off the rack the most, which helps them with future designs. This could even enable a global data market!
Blockchain technology will bring significant improvements to efficiency and transparency in the retail sector. Big brands will be more conscious of how and where their products are made, in order to diminish child labor and environmental pollution. Handling of goods will be more efficient and less prone to errors. On the other side of the spectrum; it will enable lots of interesting use cases for retail stores, which could even add extra value for the end consumer. No more unfair clothing, no more checkout queues!
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