Magazine Article | March 1, 2006

Where's Wireless?

Source: Innovative Retail Technologies

Can customer-facing wireless solutions be found beyond the trade show floor?

Integrated Solutions For Retailers, March 2006

It's a common scenario as I walk the show floors at NRF's BIG Show, FMI's MARKETECHNICS, Retail Systems, and countless other retail technology trade shows. I'm standing in a booth listening to a vendor of handheld computing solutions extol the efficiency gains that are inherent in wireless technology. Goodbye cabling, hello productivity. I've been hearing it on the show floors for years.

Funny thing is, even though I'm not much for shopping, I probably spend more time in stores than I do on trade show floors. But I don't see CRM (customer relationship management) applications, for instance, on wireless handhelds in stores. A handheld-toting shoe salesman or grocery clerk has never assisted me.

I've been covering the retail technology arena long enough to know that ROI is a painfully scrutinized element of tech spending decisions in this industry. I can accept and respect that. But why aren't you going wireless? Isn't the return as strong as vendors purport?

What's The Return On A Wireless-Empowered Associate?
The business benefits of putting wireless handheld computers in the hands of retail associates are many. Access to backroom inventory manifests improves customer service — CSRs (customer service representatives) can check on the availability of out-of-stock merchandise without leaving the customer's side. This also makes store associates more efficient — it eliminates the need for them to travel to the back room, enabling them to process customer requests more quickly and move onto the next task at hand.

Managers, equipped with wireless tablet PCs, can access planograms, e-mail applications, sales data, POS application alarms, and more while on the sales floor. Store managers are the best salespeople — it's an accepted retail axiom. Isn't there enough value in getting that store manager out of his or her office and onto the sales floor to justify the expense of a WLAN (wireless LAN) and a tablet PC?

What about the POS? Doesn't the sales lift that comes with the opening of your outdoor garden center and sidewalk sales justify the addition of a customer service-enabling mobile POS setup?

I was a consumer well before I learned about retail technology. As a consumer, I'm more concerned about the security of my credit card digits than I am about your payment processing applications. I get nervous when my credit card walks away in the hands of a stranger. Go figure. Why then, don't I see more tableside payment processing when I'm out for dinner? My paranoia aside, wouldn't the server cycle through more tables faster if he or she was a wirelessly enabled, walking cash register?

When I'm at the home improvement store with a huge cart full of building supplies, I have one objective — check out and get this stuff loaded into my truck. And I'm not the only guy in line with a bunch of heavy, bulky items. Where's the compact, mobile, wirelessly enabled POS associate — the line buster — that I hear so much about? Let the lady with the scroll saw blades go through the checkout lane. Contractor Bob and I have to get this stuff loaded up!

I know that wireless for the sake of wireless is foolish. But wireless for the sake of better customer service and improved productivity? As hardware and network prices continue to fall, I can't help but ponder — where's wireless?