Magazine Article | October 1, 2003

Where Is Wireless In Retail?

Source: Innovative Retail Technologies

The answer is increasingly everywhere you look. If you're considering wireless applications anywhere in your enterprise, first consider these comments from industry veterans.

Integrated Solutions For Retailers, October 2003

Eric Hermelee, VP of product management at wireless software provider Wavelink Corp., teamed up with Frank Riso, director of business development at Symbol Technologies, to discuss the right places for wireless applications in your retail enterprise.

1. Where is it most useful for retailers to run wires-free? What applications make sense for them?

Hermelee: Wireless applications have the fastest ROI in the back office and supply chain functions of retail environments. The highest priority for wireless applications should be where operational functions are controlled (anywhere where there are goods being received, tracked, shipped, or sold) such as in distribution centers and retail store operations in which applications such as inventory, merchandising control, and shelf and price auditing are used.

Wireless applications in retail make workers more productive, streamline operations, help goods flow faster, and provide access to real-time data and inventory. As a result productivity goes up and there is a reduction in errors, which ultimately improves the customer's experience. Having the right goods always in stock improves the buyer/seller relationship. Using technology reduces the cost of carrying goods, enables retailers to better organize merchandise and quickly replenish goods, and ultimately provides a 'low cost of goods/high availability of goods' retail environment.

Riso: Wireless technology is used to solve a retail concern or operational problem; it is not installed to just be useful. As an example, if a retailer has limited space to open up more POS stations, they can increase customer throughput with a wireless POS or even using a mobile computer for mobile POS.

If the retailer has a concern with pricing and price markdowns, a price management application with real-time access (wireless) to the in-store computer has proven to improve item price accuracy.

Given the basic response above, most retailers have implemented wireless technology for applications such as inventory management and replenishment, price management, wireless POS, and receiving applications at store level and an equal number of applications for their distribution centers.

2. Where can retailers save money by deploying these wireless solutions?

Hermelee: Retailers have the most money to save by deploying wireless solutions in operations such as the distribution center and on the retail floor. While POS and kiosk implementations may improve customer service by accommodating fluctuations in customer volumes and providing timely service, they may not provide as direct and immediate an ROI as streamlining back office functions.

Riso: There are three major benefit areas for the use of applications using wireless technology: store associates are more productive (saving labor dollars); store associates are more accurate (saving lost dollars in inventory); and customer satisfaction is improved, because customers get the correct item at the right price and are checked out faster using wireless technology.

3. What kinds of retailers are demanding these wireless applications?

Hermelee: We've seen retailers across the board adopting wireless. In fact, retail is the most established and well-documented sector using wireless technologies, with wireless already permeating entire operations. Most major retailers are experiencing the benefit of wireless applications today. One of the biggest verticals using wireless in retail is grocery stores, since the goods they carry often include perishable items which need to be tracked and controlled very efficiently to minimize lost inventory and delivered just in time.

Riso: Wireless applications began in the supermarket segment of retail and today are commonplace in chain-operated department stores, mass merchandise stores, supermarkets, drug stores, warehouse clubs, and larger specialty stores and category killers.

4. Who is a good candidate for these wireless retail applications?

Hermelee: In general, the ideal retail candidate for wireless applications is a retailer with mission critical applications such as ERP (enterprise resource planning), SCM (supply chain management), inventory, shipping, receiving, many locations, many users that need to access the system, and a need for real-time data. A good candidate is one in a competitive environment that puts a premium on lowest cost and highest service for their operation.

Most retailers already have ERP or SCM applications. 'Going wireless' in many cases means extending those applications to mobile devices to perform tasks more efficiently.

5. What kind of theoretical results statements could a typical retailer make a year after deploying these wireless applications?


  • Reduced costs - better merchandise controls, lower costs of carrying individual goods, labor costs of supporting inventory and goods, cost per good/labor supporting it. Reduction of errors in accuracy of orders.
  • Improved customer service - more timely delivery of goods. More efficient checkout processes, employee real-time access to product information for better service. Reduction of inaccurate orders.

Riso: Retailers have been making the following statements:

  • We have reduced our number of out-of-stocks by x% by using wireless computer-guided ordering.
  • We have improved our pricing accuracy to x% by using wireless price verification.
  • We have improved our inventory management with wireless receiving at our back door.
  • We have increased our sales x% since we implemented wireless POS.

6. What are the most important features a retailer should look for in wireless applications?

Hermelee: Retailers need to ask several questions. Does it create ROI to build in mobility? Will workers accept the application and will it improve productivity? The application should be designed to streamline the user's specific workflow by taking the worker through his/her routine with visual and audio cues on the device to make workers work more efficiently. Workers usually have a handful of tasks that consist of repeating the same handful of steps (pull up an order, go down the aisle, scan, pick it, pack it, get ready for shipping or restocking). The application on the device should use visual and audio cues to guide the completion of tasks and alert the worker to any errors. Another question to ask is whether the application performs up to speed. A mission-critical environment like retail must have the ability to run 24/7 with a lot of transactions. The performance and speed of an application are critical in a high transactional environment such as retail. Also, retailers should be certain the application can integrate with their existing infrastructures and allow for changes in the future (servers, devices, existing applications, and future applications support). Failing to evaluate integration and future proofing can be costly.

Riso: Wireless apps need to perform seamlessly. Employees need access to the information in the processor while moving about the store performing price verification, for instance, without any service interruption. The devices need to be the correct form factor for the associate (gun style for scan intensive applications, PDA [personal digital assistant] form factor for manager applications, etc.). Retailers also need to have the store site inspected to determine the location and number of access ports for wireless coverage in the store.