The bar code printers and scanners you already have can be used for many in-store applications beyond the POS — but you need a WLAN (wireless LAN).
Retail revolves around the bar code. Bar codes are scanned when receiving merchandise in DCs and back rooms, they're scanned at the POS, and they're usually scanned when taking inventory or making markdowns. You already have bar code devices in your stores to perform these functions, such as tethered scanners at the POS and on markdown carts, and desktop thermal printers for reprinting merchandise tags. However, by deploying a WLAN, you can take advantage of a range of other uses for bar code equipment — uses that can improve your customers' experiences and help you carry out marketing functions.Many of the additional functions of bar code scanners and peripherals are dependent upon a WLAN. WLAN installations are becoming more and more common in stores, as wireless standards have become established and WLAN equipment has improved. "The wireless infrastructures are very mature now, and thus are much less challenging to deploy," says Mike Knappert, principal sales engineer for bar coding vendor The Ryzex Group. "The best thing is, once a network is put in place according to security standards [such as PCI (Payment Card Industry) and IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers) standards], retailers will have a wireless backbone with product independence because the network is standardized."
With a WLAN in place, you can improve your back room receiving and store replenishment processes. You probably already have handheld computers equipped with bar code scanners for shipment receiving; via the WLAN, workers can query a store's host system and learn how many of a particular product are on the shelves, and if a replenishment order is in the queue. Workers can then route the shipment directly to the store floor, or place it in storage in the back room. "Shipment and replenishment planning can be done at the DC, but there is a two-day lag from when the DC determines where the shipment should go [store or back room] and when the store receives its shipment," says Kelly Jamison, director of sales for printer vendor Cognitive Solutions, Inc. "A wireless network provides real-time access to a store's current needs."
Bar Code Solutions Create Customer Convenience
A wireless network also enables you to deploy applications that can enhance your customer service efforts. A major trend in most retail stores is placing customer-facing (and easy-to-use) price verifiers throughout the store. If you don't have these in place, a wireless network makes installing them much less of an ndertaking than if you used a wired network. A bar code scanner, sign, and a display unit can be affixed to almost any post or shelf, and as long as it can communicate with the store's network, that's all you need. Also, the wireless price verifiers are portable.
You can expand the function of the price verifiers to perform marketing tasks, while still maintaining customer convenience. For instance, in a grocery store, a sign on the price verifier could invite customers to scan a certain type of soft drink or soup to see a discounted price. You not only can promote particular products this way, but also can measure customer reception by tracking the number of scans.
If you integrate a wireless printer with the price verifier, customers can print a coupon for a complementary product when an item is scanned, such as a coupon for salsa when tortilla chips are scanned. Also, customers can scan the bar codes on their loyalty cards to learn of promotions on various items in the store.
Price verifiers can be converted into kiosks with the addition of touch screens and audio to provide customers with more detailed product information. Pharmacies and, again, grocery stores, are great examples of where a solution like this would work, says data capture vendor PSC's Matt Schler, VP and general manager of mobile and wireless products. "There is such a variety of over-the-counter drugs, and the print on the labels is small," he says. "Also, the customer may want more information than what is there. With an interactive kiosk, customers can scan a product and learn more about its features and side effects, and could even enter the name of the medication they're currently taking to see if there is a risk of negative reactions."
Thermal Printers Are Not Just For Bar Codes
You have thermal bar code printers for reprinting merchandise tags, printing shipping labels, and even printing bar-coded shelf labels. But remember, those printers can print more than bar-coded labels — they can be used to print marketing materials for your stores. Though much of your marketing collateral might come from your corporate offices, stores can use these printers when they want to run a store-only promotion, or the shelf tags stores received are for the incorrect products. Also, the printers can be used when there is a short turnaround between a corporate promotion directive and the time the promotion will be offered to customers, a common occurrence in the winter holiday season. "Most stores prep for Black Friday promotions the Wednesday before Thanksgiving," says Paul Vogt, global practice leader, retail, for bar code printer vendor Zebra Technologies, LLC. "Sometimes the promotions aren't finalized until that Wednesday morning. Sears stores printed 10 million promotional labels Wednesday night on their existing thermal printers."
The capabilities a wireless network can enable are not limited to those that are bar code based (e.g. digital signage). The important thing is to start planning for a wireless deployment, if you haven't already. "I was listening to a Webinar on retail technology presented by Symbol and heard a great quote by one of the retail IT directors on the call," says Vogt. "He said, 'In five years' time, if retailers are not wireless, and are not investing in wireless technologies and add-ons, they will be out of business.'"