Australia’s retail sector enjoyed a higher-than-expected bump in consumer spending in February thanks to Taylor Swift’s tour down under, but overall, retail spend is stagnant as buyers tighten their budgets to deal with the soaring cost of living.

That’s not the only headache the sector faces. 

Supply chains may have recovered since the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, but they remain unsteady. Add to that the rising cost of doing business, and it’s clear that the next year or two will come with vast operational and financial burdens.

Many of the major challenges impacting retail supply chains – such as the state of the economy, geopolitical conflicts, the cost of goods, and consumer habits – aren’t going to be resolved in the near-term. But rather than lament these issues, the retail sector needs to look at opportunities to offset their impact in ways it can control: through greater visibility over its assets, and how those are managed and distributed.

‘Track and monitor’ technology has become a staple to achieve this. It has created digital footprints across the retail supply chain as assets move between destinations. There have been subsequent impacts to efficiency, stronger compliance, and safeguarding supply – for example, food safety has improved and waste reduced in fresh food, and authenticity of pharmaceuticals guaranteed.

But it can’t just be about knowing where an asset is located. Quality control is essential – businesses need to know the condition products are in and what is happening to them. This is especially crucial amid the ecommerce boom and opens the door to efficiencies for smaller brands competing with online behemoths like Amazon.

The way in which asset tracking is used today remains limited. Yes, retail supply chains are accustomed to monitoring the whereabouts of goods as they move from point A to point B, with routes dotted between those locations where real-time GPS tracking is deployed.

What’s happening far less is analysis of critical events occurring as those assets move, and after they have been delivered. In many cases, data is missing, leaving key questions unanswered. Are refrigeration systems working within transport units, or are there variations in temperatures that could compromise perishables? Are deliveries moving safely, or have impact incidents occurred at any stage? Are cages, kegs, bins or other transport units being returned for re-use, or are they disappearing after delivery?

Without successfully answering these sorts of questions, retail supply chains risk thousands of dollars in losses, face unnecessary asset losses, and are forced to have more vehicles on the road – which comes with both financial and environmental consequences.

As retail supply chains evolve and digitalise further, there is a pressing need for a renewed approach to remove ambiguity from operations and processes. The Internet of Things (IoT) has created opportunities by generating previously untapped insights.

For instance, supermarket giant Coles fitted IoT trackers on more than 4,500 food bins transporting poultry. This technology provides real-time data on location, impact events, and temperature, which has reduced the company’s asset costs by 25 per cent, and tripled the return rate of empty bins. It also ensured Coles can demonstrate compliance with regulatory standards.

Coles’ efforts are demonstrative of the ability to not only gauge the whereabouts of perishables and the assets in which they are transported, but also the scope of IoT’s role in driving efficiencies and bringing down operating costs.

Outcomes can cascade well beyond these immediate impacts. With ESG now a centrepiece of corporate strategies and the Federal Government to mandate climate-related reporting this year, the ability to thoroughly understand the movement of goods allows retail supply chains to optimise their frequency – that can drive a significant reduction in trucks on the road and therefore carbon emissions, while providing the data to demonstrate cause and effect.

An example of this is Konvoy, a keg rental company, which uses IoT sensors to track its extensive keg fleet. The data gathered helps reduce the transportation of empty kegs, optimising load management, reducing operational costs, and enhancing sustainability by decreasing unnecessary journeys.

As logistics managers face ongoing and new challenges, it is crucial to leverage data that was previously untouched to optimise operations and drive broader organisational change. With IoT providing enhanced visibility into asset management, retail supply chains can address external pressures by adopting strategies that reduce costs, increase efficiency, and deliver outcomes throughout their operations.

Sam Sharief is chief operations officer at Australian technology company Thinxtra.