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What's a digital twin and why is it important to retail now?

What would it be like if retailers could visualize their financial future on a virtual replica? With digital twins, they can.

Have you ever heard of a digital twin? It's not a brand-new concept but it's changing the way many industries like the automotive, retail, logistics, and public sectors operate.

While the technology has been available since the 1960s, when NASA used it to create duplicate systems for space missions at ground level (think Apollo 13), the term became popular when researcher, professor and Chief Data Scientist Michael Grieves first used the term Digital Twin. 

Recently, Forbes touted digital twinning as one of the most transformative technological trends. But what is it exactly and why is it so innovative? Digital twins are software models of real-world items. They are, essentially, virtual replicas of objects, places or people used to run simulations before solutions are deployed in real-life (IRL). They enable in-depth analyses through big data, IoT and AI solutions. Digital twins can spot potential issues, avoid expensive downtime, trial new business opportunities, forecast future scenarios through simulation and modify manufacturing processes based on customer requirements. Since these learnings are gleaned from work conducted in cyberspace, businesses can reduce operational expenses and cycle times. Today, retailers are already using digital twins to offer better products and services. While there are a lot of prospects, brands can use the technology to analyze and predict buying behavior, help maintain social-distancing and safety protocols or even model what future location possibilities and scenarios might look like. 

Let's take a look at why digital twinning is important to retail today.

“If you're monitoring shopper behavior — how many people are ready to check out, how many people have their carts full — a digital twin can also make predictions on how the queue length will change too." - Yao Li, HERE Technologies, Product Innovation

Two is better than one

A digital twin is designed to receive data from IoT sensors, gathering information from a real-world, real-time counterpart. It uses the information, combined with historical data, to predict a reaction or impact. This allows the twin to simulate the IRL object in real-time, provide insights and reveal potential problems or manage high-risk scenarios ie, a brand could model customer flow and foot traffic density for mobile shop placement options.

Digital Twin Technology

"Up to 89% of all IoT platforms will contain some form of digital twinning capability by 2025" - ResearchAndMarkets.com

Furthermore, in a retail context, this could translate to connecting a digital twin to embedded sensors in order to obtain data for financial analysis and projection. This would enable brands to refine and optimize their forecasting, adjust pricing or offer client-specific opportunities ie, an automotive manufacturer can monitor higher wear-and-tear usage of their vehicles and offer additional warranty or maintenance options.

The power of a digital doppelgänger

IoT sensors, HERE Indoor Positioning and Places Footprints, can help retailers gather detail-rich information regarding supplier and consumption patterns.

This data is then replicated in a digital model of the store, a line-up or even customer profiles providing brands with greater insight and confidence:

  • Self-checkout models: as people go through the aisles, a digital twin scenario can help create automated check-out designs that facilitate faster transactions during COVID-19 conditions.

  • Supply chain administration: from supplier and retail perspectives, real-time and historic data can help managers more accurately replenish goods, readjust placements of products and create targeted ads to minimize waste, optimize cash flow, and promote sales.

  • Business forecasting: brands can rely on accurate data, in-store traffic and surrounding traffic patterns to optimize business hours and worker headcounts, add strategic consumer pricing

    or discounts.

  • Brand strategy: digital twins can provide creative delivery options through mobile shops, batch drop-off and pick-up sites or even help companies plan a move closer to their clientele.

  • Queue management: digital twins help brands manage COVID regulations by facilitating advanced queue reservations, measuring crowd size and speed of customer intake, in addition to the length and duration of a line-up.


Check out British grocery chain Sainsbury's, who are testing a virtual queuing system that lets customers remotely select and monitor their position in a line-up via an app.

Advancements in IoT sensors are one of the components that make digital twinning possible and accessible. And as IoT devices are refined, and more complex objects (cars, motorcycles, environment etc...) become connected with the capacity to communicate, creating a digital equivalent gives retailers and manufacturers the ability to optimize strategies for efficient future projections. 

In a time when shops in the UK are considering a move to the suburbs, creating a digital forecast of the cost-benefit analysis could save valuable time and money in an already precarious scenario.

Let HERE Geodata Models help you visualize your future.

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