Innovative Retail Technologies

MAR 2013

Innovative Retail Technologies (formerly Integrated Solutions For Retailers) is the premier source for innovative yet pragmatic technology solutions in the retail industry.

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Special Report the current purpose of a mobile strategy is to serve merely as an extension of the existing e-commerce offering." With certainty, using mobile devices to do little more than extend the digital platform into stores is the path of least resistance. But the path of least resistance is also often the path to least impact. Motorola, which last year unveiled a bevy of new mobile devices (see its SB1 smart badge and ET1 tablet for starters) aimed squarely at workforce and task management initiatives, begs to differ with the lackluster response to mobile as a store operations differentiator. And Fick says some Direct Source customers have seen so much value in WFM (workforce management) and task management applications that they're starting the mobile journey there, not with mobile POS. "Just as it is in the physical realm, simplicity rules in digital execution of task management applications," he says. "We have a customer achieving great results with a simple set of real-time cashier productivity reports developed for their iOS devices. The manager can view a graph that displays each cashier, color coded in green, yellow, and red to indicate whether they're working above, at, or below standard," says Fick. "If something is amiss, the manager can walk from wherever she is on the floor to see what's going on." Here again, Fick warns that without the proper training that leads to manager acceptance, mobile deployment of WFM and task management applications can fail at the execution level. In some segments, turnover among store managers rivals that of associates, which can create a significant long-term mobile application execution challenge. The training challenge can be mitigated by the simplicity of the application, and the ubiquity of the devices and software platforms themselves contributes to a shorter training curve. Inventory Management: Change Looms In Retail's Original Mobile Proving Ground In its 2012 Store Report, RSR's Paula Rosenblum and Steve Rowen aptly noted the importance of recognizing the activities stores perform as a new node in the retail supply chain. While the point was made in the context of store compensation for filling orders placed through other channels (why else would they do it quickly and efficiently?), peeling back the layers of the store-as-a-fulfillment-center challenge reveals additional mobile hardware and operational/systemic challenges. As retailers have rushed "consumer-grade" (for lack of a better term) iOS, Android, and now Windows 8 mobile devices into stores, they've done so with high hopes for cross-functionality. They're hoping to leverage the same investments they're deploying for mobile POS, clienteling, task management, and other applications to handle traditional back-room mobile data capture applications, such as receiving, transfers, and inventory. As this sort of activity becomes even more important and grows in volume due to consumer demand for the channel convergence that enables "buy anywhere, fulfill anywhere" retailing, retailers are faced with another set of serious mobile decisions. 58 18 ● March 2013July 2009 Wakefield says there's more discussion among VeriFone GlobalBay customers about the next generation of mobile devices for inventory management than all the other mobile applications combined. He and Fick both agree that the traditional back office mobile ADC suppliers — like Honeywell, Datalogic, and Motorola — are under siege from the likes of Apple, Android, and Microsoft. Does the case for "retail hardened," purpose-built devices still have merit? "I'll leave it to Apple to make that argument," quips Wakefield. "The bulky device with function keys and numeric keypads is simply becoming irrelevant though. I'm not sold on a flat tablet for back office applications, but adding a scanner to an iPhone or an iPod that enables user features like one-hand operation and an intuitive interface is an attractive and less expensive option that retailers are migrating toward." Fick agrees. "If you're looking to use a tablet for inventory and receiving purposes, put thought into buying one or two wireless Bluetooth scanners and using the tablet for confirmation purposes," he says. As is the case with each of the mobile application areas discussed here, the systemic and operational challenges associated with an increase in fulfillment-type tasks at stores must be addressed. This year, workforce management solutions provider Kronos and supply chain/logistics solutions vendor Manhattan Associates announced a partnership designed to address that challenge, on the heels of last year's merger of similar companies RedPrairie and JDA. These partnerships and mergers address the new store-level demand for crossfunctional systems, training, and budgeting/operations that are absolutely necessary for stores in the omni-channel environment. Just as store associates can't be expected to become effective wandering POS stations simply because they've been handed a mobile POS, back-room associates surely can't become omni-channel fulfillment enablers without the training and infrastructure they need to execute. The Technology Is Ready; Are Your Stores? The network, device, software, and security concerns that dominated the early discussions about mobile retailing have faded into the background. Integrators like Direct Source are developing new device deployment and management models (see its recent Hardware as a Service [HaaS] program for mobile device deployment) that make it easier to source, manage, and upgrade constantly evolving mobile hardware options. The development of the mobile retailing technology infrastructure has quickly reached a point of maturity. Still, mobile device and application deployment is not a plug and play proposition. If you are to succeed in the creation of customer experience differentiation, the enablement of faster checkout, and the decreased cost of POS infrastructure promised by mobile retailing, your challenge is now an organizational one. ■ To access the RSR research cited here, go to Registration and research access is free.

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