The role of the retail associate is rapidly evolving. Automation and self service technologies are reducing the need for people to handle many basic, rote administrative activities. This presents an opportunity, as it enables store associates to focus on providing exceptional customer service and product expertise. Increasingly, technology is helping achieve these goals, too. Mobile devices can enable retail staff to instantly access detailed product information, real-time inventory, customer preferences, payment options, and more, from anywhere in the store.
Equipping retail associates with mobile devices empowers them to excel at increasingly important in-store use cases like clienteling and MPOS, while also simplifying tasks like inventory management. And when those devices are either consumer smartphones and tablets—or enterprise-ready enclosures built for those devices—then the solution becomes that much more versatile and scalable.
Retail staff say smartphones and tablets make them more effective
To assess the value of equipping store associates with mobile technology, retailers can look to their own workforce. Three out of four retail associates say their employer doesn’t give them access to technology that would allow them to do their job efficiently.
Mobile devices can give associates and shoppers instant access to a range of important in-store functions—price checks, current inventory, mobile checkouts, in-store pickups, etc.—wherever they happen to be in the store. Access to digital tools on-the-go is vital to helping associates work efficiently and deliver seamless in-store experiences to shoppers.
Shoppers don’t want to learn new technologies
The success of technologies like self checkout has triggered a wave of innovations that retailers are now piloting and deploying in grocery, apparel, big box, and other retail segments. However, when it comes to adopting new technologies, retailers are finding that shoppers are hesitant.
Walmart is one of many retailers that experimented with a “scan-and-go” type of technology. This involved shoppers checking out a scan gun at the store entrance or downloading an app to a smartphone, and then scanning items as they’re added to the shopping cart and printing barcodes for produce. The idea was that this would save time at checkout.
However, what Walmart discovered is that shoppers found the process to be more complex and time-consuming than just letting trained associates handle the scanning and tabulation at the end of their shopping journey. Walmart discontinued the project in May of 2018.
Many shoppers don’t want retailer apps on their phones
Shoppers are also hesitant to download retailer apps onto their smartphones. When asked about their store app usage, just 16% of shopper said they had used the apps while physically in the store and roughly 15% of shoppers had never even heard of retailer apps.
Five months after Walmart announced the end of the scan-and-go pilot, it began to encourage its store associates to start using their smartphones for work in a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) program.
Through a new suite of associate-facing apps, the retailer is empowering employees with the ability to check inventory, scan products, review sales data, and perform other work-related tasks using their own devices.
This move aligns with what shoppers say about store associates equipped with mobile devices. In a 2018 survey, 76% of respondents said they liked the idea of store associates having handheld or fixed tools to help them check inventory and prices. This is an increase of 67% over the previous year.
Smartphones & tablets beat legacy handheld computers at every turn
Particularly in retail, handheld computers tend to be complex, expensive and heavy. Even worse, the typical ultra-ruggedized design makes them difficult to pocket for convenience. By contrast, the smartphones and tablets that store associates use in their everyday lives offer rich features and exceptional usability.
By adding components like enhanced durability and functionality like barcode scanning or payments processing, devices like the iPhone and iPad can be transformed into versatile tools that help associates perform key tasks and streamline the shopping experience for customers. Plus, these devices are as versatile as the apps the retailer chooses to deploy.
Mobile devices help retailers create more consistent cross-channel in-store experiences
With nearly 60% of shoppers using smartphones in stores to research products and pricing, it’s a smart move for retailers to empower their sales associates with the convenience and utility of mobile devices as well. These tools help associates assist shoppers anywhere in the store, empowering them to deliver a personalized shopping experience by accessing the customers’ online cart, wish list, or past orders, for example.
Mobile devices in the store are a super efficient way for retailers to bring digital to the physical store—and vice versa. Shoppers can start on a retailer’s website and choose to buy online and pick up in-store (BOPIS). Conversely, with a mobile checkout, as in the Apple store, in-store shoppers might prefer to buy in-store and ship to home. Both use cases can be facilitated and improved by equipping associates with mobile devices throughout the store.
Unlocking the next generation of retail use cases with today’s consumer devices
From clienteling to line-busting to inventory duties, mobile devices give sales associates a power boost in terms of seriously flexible functionality. The same device can become a lightweight and easy-to-use clienteling tool, BOPIS information center, and inventory tool, all with the tap of a touchscreen.
The ever-improving cameras on modern smartphones, combined with advances in computer vision technologies, are leading retailers to develop new and innovative ways to engage shoppers in the aisle. For example, the internal camera on the iPad and iPhone is already in use for ID verification, scanning 1D, 2D, and imperceptible barcodes, and leveraging augmented reality to push the boundaries of experimental retail. It’s clear that retail is still just beginning to scratch the surface of how these increasingly powerful, versatile devices can be utilized to enhance shopping experiences and redefine the role of the retail associate.
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