By Dipesh Hinduja, Mobile Solutions Architect for Stratix
Retail IT decision makers are faced with a plethora of choices when crafting mobile technology strategy, but none may be more impactful than considering the level of expense it takes to deploy advanced mobile devices at scale to a largely unskilled and temp-heavy workforce.
According to Hinduja, “A lot of retailers are talking about the level of expense to train a very transient staff of retail associates. One of the things they’re saying is ‘If I put this app out there and I have it on this mobile device, I will train up the people who are here today. But how do I keep that ongoing as my associates switch out?’”
These same decision makers have to ensure that their mobile strategy is perfectly in line with their larger omnichannel strategy, especially given the shift in consumer preferences toward online shopping. “We start talking about customers having quick and efficient experiences online and through your app,” offered Hinduja, “but when they get into the store and have to hunt for an associate simply to talk about for products, wait in line for support, or even simply check out…it breaks the omnichannel strategy.”
“They don’t go to the stores,” he continued, “and those stores have a lot of opportunity for upsell, cross-sell, impulse buys, building brand loyalty…whatever it is. Retailers have to prioritize the points of interaction between the associate and the customer. What the customer started online, they need to be able to go into the store to complete.”
Of course, these considerations are only as relevant as it pertains to store associates using mobile devices. All too often, lack of best practices in terms of hardware and app support negatively affects the user experience to the point that associates won’t bother to incorporate the devices. “We see this frequently as we help customers execute large deployments of mobile devices in all sorts of settings – whether it be grocery stores or home improvement warehouses or whatever it is. It’s usually the same challenges – adoption and effective use of technology. There are so many times the associate would rather just put the device away for a multitude of reasons. This is where we try to help our customers see the mobile strategy as part of a larger picture,” Hinduja cited.
“If they’re not ready to go,” he continued, “then that associate is going to do their job as they always have – with pen and paper or whatever the fallback process is. It is important to have those fallback processes, but we don’t want them to need them. The other issue we typically see, our customers think about not only when the device breaks, but also avoiding having a stash of broken devices laying around in the store. It’s easy for central IT or a mobile managed solutions provider to send out a replacement device, but there must be consideration on how to get that broken device back to the point of service to get it repaired and back to the available spare pool inventory. We help our customers think through a lot.”
Beyond support, smart mobile strategy for omnichannel retail means focusing on the little things in the early planning stages. Hinduja offered some examples to make the point:
“I think ergonomics is something that gets overlooked, actually. People think ‘I’ll just let the store associate put it in their pocket and walk around all day.’ They don’t consider that some people are bigger or smaller, and it may not work well for every store associate to have the same device the same way. We need to give them options on how they wear it.”
Continuing on, he offers “One of the barriers to adoption is often the infrastructure and the hassle it causes when, say, they walk around the store and the Wi-Fi drops out or the connection to the server is slow. It makes it frustrating to use. A lot of times these deployments are planned with the thought of everything going right in the store – so they’ll do a heat map of the signal across the store, but they’ll do it after hours or before important equipment is turned on and generating electrical RF frequency. What we want our customers to do is think about infrastructure – not just in the ideal conditions, but also in regular operations conditions.
We talk to them a lot about making sure they do their heatmaps when the store is in use and full, if possible. Think about power, because while mobile devices don’t eat much power, you need it in the right places for things like charging stations. People don’t think about OS updates, security patches, and even app updates. These are small transactions happening very frequently, and you don’t want to delay that. Whether it be iOS or Android, all of these things have security patches going down and they can be quite large. Design not just for steady state, but also some known extremes.”
About The Author
Dipesh Hinduja is Mobile Solutions Architect for Stratix.