Leveraging Mobility in Retail
In 2017 over 6,400 store locations closed, leading people to believe that Retail is Dead. Maybe not: let’s take a deeper dive into an emerging area, “Leveraging Mobile in Retail,” and the impact to IT during this period of Retail natural selection.
The first thing people think of when the topic of “Mobile in Retail” comes up is how more and more retail consumers begin the shopping journey on a mobile device before they complete in-store purchase. However, we are going to go a different way and actually dig in on some of the reasons that mobile devices and related technologies can be leveraged by a business.
A business (retail or other), should consider adopting the following four focus areas in data capture and Mobile device usage within their environment:
- Mobile devices to improve customer service
- Faster look-ups and check-outs via Mobile POS
- Improve communication and scheduling for internal Sales/Support Staff
- Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR)
- Improve customer service
Consumers tend to value the smart recommendations and guidance provided by knowledgeable sales staff in a physical store. However, the high turnover typical in Retail and in many other industries can make maintaining a well-informed staff a challenge. In fact, the lack of staff knowledge can actually drive a negative consumer experience (think of your own experiences). Retail organizations can minimize this creditability risk by providing staff with mobile devices. New hires and seasonal staff would have immediate access to detailed product information. Staff can then make relevant recommendations for products based on the consumer’s preferences and available options. In addition, sales staff can check if the product is within the store and/or other business locations without having to leave the consumer.
1. Faster look-ups and check-outs via Mobile POS
A Mobile Point of Sale (POS) device is a smartphone, tablet or dedicated wireless device that performs the functions of a “traditional fixed in a location” cash register or electronic point of sale terminal. This device mobility allows a business to conduct business from wherever they happen to be and as a result, more businesses are embracing mobile POS systems. In addition, Mobile POS is a good solution for small businesses that take in-person credit card payments or other types of cashless payments (e.g., Apple Pay or PayPal), but who don’t necessarily operate out of a store or office every day (think of home services providers). These low-cost cloud-based point of sale systems are quite affordable and secure.
However, even larger stores or businesses can benefit from the mobility of the POS devices by allowing staff to interact with consumers throughout the store. As we mentioned before, sales staff can quickly answer a question about a price or the availability of an item. Newer technologies are even helping to physically locate the item as well. Sales staff then can quickly finalize the sale, since these mobile devices are tied back to the POS and inventory management system. Customer satisfaction is increased and abandoned sales are reduced, increasing revenues.
Mobile POS devices can help businesses avoid long lines at the sales registers caused by product returns. Consumers can be helped directly and separately. Since the return process is not always straight forward, staff can work with the consumer on a more personal level to ensure their satisfaction. Additionally, from a disaster recovery perspective, a Mobile POS would have greatly improved my own experience at a local retailer recently. A partial power outage in the area resulted in only 1 POS register being operational out of 6, with resulting long lines. A Mobile POS solution using 6 handheld devices would have still been operational and as a consumer, I would not even have been aware of the partial power outage. As an added benefit, the mobile POS device would have been able to scan everything in my cart and not be dependent on the fixed length bar code reader that we see tied to the traditional counter POS register. (Those cords always seem to be about 6 inches too short.)
2. Improve communication and scheduling for internal Sales/Support Staff
Traditional retailers would no longer have to rely on legacy scheduling techniques such as printing out paper schedules or posting information on whiteboards. This legacy scheduling model still requires workers to physically come into the store or call in to confirm their shifts. Instead, using a mobile app either on a corporate-provided device or BYOD, staff notifications and schedule acceptance is tracked and employees can even trade shifts with other employees.
3. Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR)
Most people like online shopping convenience, with the ability to buy online from home, work or even while traveling, saving time and effort.
However, there are certain things that just aren’t the same online. You get a better idea about how an item of clothing will look and feel if you can physically try it on. So, what if virtual (VR) and augmented reality (AR) could achieve this in experience for you, no matter where you are?
Virtual reality (VR), along with its sister technology augmented reality (AR), offers retailers the opportunity to create a personalized customer experience. without actually travelling to the store. This requires stand-alone technologies such as headsets and, typically, a controller. For example, virtual dressing rooms can allow you to see how an item of clothing would look on you and even validate the sizing. VR immerses the consumer in a simulated world. Consumers could take a virtual tour of a hotel, cruise ship, or even a new home in order to quickly get a feel of the size and layout. By comparison, AR projects virtual elements onto the real world as seen through a smartphone, tablet or other projection device.
Let’s not forget that there is also a potential AI component here in VR/AR use. As you shop, stores or apps would become more intelligent and provide better more personalized matching of goods and services.
Consider the business impact in how the use of POS devices in a new differentiating way can provide better consumer service and a positive consumer experience. Also consider how adopting Mobile solutions can improve business operations and day to day back office activities. Be sure to consider if this solution will impact business operations in a way that was not planned for.
Since Mobile POS devices bring mobility and connectivity flexibility, ask if these devices can be used on new revenue avenues not considered feasible in the past. If so, can they be shared at different locations based on demand, reducing the cost and need for additional software licensing and hardware.
In summary, retail is not dead but is rapidly changing to adopt to a new consumer digital world. Business will need to embrace this change. In Part 2 we will look at planning considerations for Mobility in Retail and what questions IT should ask in order to provide technology leadership.
Les Viszlai is an Advisory Strategist with Advisory Transformation Services in Atlanta. Les, by leveraging his previous CIO experience, helps senior IT and Business leadership accelerate the “Proof of Value” of projects targeted to deliver outcomes that deliver breakthrough innovative IT strategies, optimize IT organizations’ capabilities, and help drive growth while managing risk.