How blockchain can deliver a better retail experience
Originally posted on Retail Customer Experience, a sister site of Blockchain Tech News
No matter what industry you are in, you might have heard the word blockchain spoken in awe, or you might have heard about how bitcoin is either the best investment in the world or a tool for criminals. The blockchain itself, however, is often misunderstood.
Blockchain in reality, can benefit almost any industry from restaurants to digital signage manufacturers.
Let's take a look at the what blockchain is, and how it can help transform the retail industry.
What is a blockchain?
A blockchain is a decentralized ledger that is unchangeable and fully transparent.
The bitcoin wiki describes it as: "a transaction database shared by all nodes participating in a system. A full copy of a currency's block chain contains every transaction ever executed in the currency. With this information, one can find out how much value belonged to each address at any point in history."
This means that blockchain acts as a public ledger on which every transaction is recorded and registered by a group of users. It is the backbone of bitcoin, a decentralized virtual currency.
Bitcoin is created through a process known as mining, in which "miners" use computer processing power to solve mathematical equations and earn bitcoin.
Another virtual currency, Ethereum, developed its own blockchain, and every other cryptocurrency also uses some form of blockchain.
While bitcoin was the first use of blockchain, it is not the only application for the technology.
What can it be used for?
You might be thinking: "This all sounds great, but what does blockchain do for me? I don't use virtual currency." Actually, blockchain has myriad uses that have nothing to do with virtual currency.
For one, it can enable smart contracts, which Wikipedia defines as, "computer protocol[s] intended to digitally facilitate, verify, or enforce the negotiation or performance of a contract. Smart contracts allow the performance of credible transactions without third parties."
The same type of blockchain used for Ethereum cryptocurrency can also be used to automate this process by pushing data to a user-generated contract executed on a particular date. This can be useful for banks or other financial institutions looking to automate large international contracts.
Other uses of blockchain include: identity management; automated compliance; secure voting; supply chain management; and decentralized ownership of almost any type of property.
Why you should be on the cutting edge
Blockchain hasn't yet reached the tipping point of overall acceptance. And there are many unsavory "businesses" looking to capitalize on the blockchain craze by running various scams.
That said, this technology has the chance to revolutionize the way many industries do business. That is why you need to be on the cutting edge of this technology.
When it comes to new technologies, if you fall behind you fail. Blockbuster, for example, failed when it arrived late to the streaming game. You need to start doing your research into this technology to discover how it can impact and improve your business.
Where blockchain fits into the retail customer experience
Blockchain can help in two key ways, by providing greater transparency to customers, and by giving customers more control over their loyalty programs.
With blockchain-powered supply chains, customers can gain full disclosure as to where their product came from and how it got to the storefront. They can easily see, for example, whether a piece of meat was handled properly, or confirm that their coffee beans were ethically sourced.
Retailers can also use blockchain-powered loyalty programs to enhance the customer experience. These loyalty programs can generate tokens that users can trade or sell among themselves, or redeem for purchases.
While blockchain is still on the horizon, big retailers such as Walmart are already using blockchain-powered supply chains. It's only a matter of time before every retailer is using blockchain in some capacity.
Benefits blockchain provides to retail
As mentioned above, retailers can achieve better supply chain management through blockchain. Because blockchain technology is inherently immutable, retailers can confidently track products from production to the storefront. This can be particularly useful for identirying the source of a problem — such as an outbreak of foodborne e-coli cases.
A blockchain-based system can also help retailers with identity authentication, allowing them to confirm customer and employee identities on a blockchain.
The smart contract technology behind the Ethereum blockchain can also help retailers execute financial contracts more easily than before.
Bradley Cooper is a Technology Editor for DigitalSignageToday.com and BlockchainTechNews.com. His background is in information technology, advertising, and writing.www