The Hard Side of In-Store Mobile
Retailers are certainly attuned to the importance of mobile technology in today’s store environment. Customers who live mobile-enabled, “constantly connected” lifestyles expect the seamless mobile-physical overlap that exists in other parts of their lives to also be readily available when they enter a store.
However, when designing an in-store mobile experience, retailers typically focus their efforts squarely on the software side of the equation. Brad Fick, president, partner and co-founder of in-store technology provider Direct Source, recently took some time to discuss why retailers need to pay more attention to the role mobile hardware plays in the modern store landscape.
Are retailers ignoring the continuing importance of hardware to store operations?
Now more than ever, retailers understand the importance of hardware to store operations. Omnichannel retail strategies have expanded beyond simply knowing how the consumer shops. They have transformed into understanding how to use digital signage, messaging, in-aisle assistance and checkout solutions that equate to customer satisfaction, sales and purchasing. These are all key drivers in helping retailers predict future behavior.
What should retailers look for when selecting in-store technology hardware solutions?
Mobile payments will always be a key driver for most retailers, enabling them to assist shoppers from anywhere in the store. Line busting, price checkers, store maps and brand management are all added benefits to upgrading and installing customized in-store technologies. Other critical factors include ease of use for store associates, decreased training times and intuitive applications.
How can retailers leverage mobile hardware solutions to improve the in-store customer experience?
Retailers are currently exploring how consumers interact with their brands prior to having an in-store shopping experience. For example, knowing how consumers use digital channels such as websites, smartphones, tablets and social media to research the retailer’s product service offerings can drive how retailers market and interact with customers.
Understanding customer expectations for both the digital and in-store experience, whether consumers prefer to shop independently or want a sales associate to greet them and provide service, is now a significant focus for retailers. Many retailers are also equipping associates with mobile devices that provide access to detailed, interactive data, allowing them to provide a personalized in-store experience to the consumer.
What are the advantages of renting, as opposed to purchasing, in-store hardware solutions?
As retailers adapt to mobile trends, they are learning that staying ahead of technology can mean upgrading devices every six to nine months. Hardware-as-a-Service (HaaS) makes cost justification easier, while enabling chain-wide rollouts of the newest devices. Benefits to these programs include flexibility, buyback programs, trade-ins for existing hardware, fair market leasing and recycling. For any program such as these, it is best to have a partner that can help manage the financial aspects so retailers can focus on the consumer and their needs.
How does Direct Source help retailers meet their in-store hardware solution needs?
Direct Source takes a consultative approach to uncovering the right technology solution for each retailer, using its goals, objectives, future strategy, pain points, and retail initiatives and requirements as a guide. Our long history in the retail sector means that we can provide unbiased and in-depth product knowledge and reviews. We also focus on delivering solutions that are designed to future-proof technology investments.
To stay current with the rapidly evolving technology and mobile trends, we work closely with our manufacturing and technology partners. We also work with retailers to create a digital map of how consumers use digital tools and devices to shop even before walking through the door.
We help retailers determine what they can do with consumer insight around these behaviors and how it directly impacts the store footprint. The team then works directly with the major mobility companies to design new products for the retailer’s needs.
Have a Merry Networked Holiday
Along with increased sales and profits, the holidays also bring retailers increased strain on their networks. Fortunately, there are a number of steps retailers can take to keep their networks secure, scaled and operational throughout the busy holiday season. Jay Yanko, retail global practice leader for Verizon Enterprise Solutions Group, has advice to keep the holidays networked and bright.
When it comes to security, Yanko said the same rules that apply the rest of the year apply during the holidays.
“The majority of holiday security issues are basic,” said Yanko. “You need to reset passwords, put access control in place, and make sure there are no holes where outside sources could find a secure area by accident.” It’s also important to ensure that POS systems are compliant with the latest PCI and EMV standards for secure payment card transactions. Online retailers should be aware of coming shifts in payment fraud trends.
“EMV will push nefarious actors to the online space,” cautioned Yanko. “The physical space is easier today for criminals to focus on than the online space, but that’s changing.”
Of course, in modern retail the lines between brick-and-mortar and digital channels are blurring. A prime example: the increasingly popular buy-online-pick-up-in-store option, which requires a special focus to maintain security.
“Look at how business processes are executed in buy-online-pick-up-in-store,” Yanko said. “Twelve to 15 systems or more participate in a services-oriented architecture. Not all of them reside within the four walls of the retailer. So if you call out to a tax lookup system, make sure you have a secure connection that doesn’t allow traffic to be exposed or open a hole into your systems through an external interface.”
To meet increased holiday-related demand and traffic on their networks, Yanko said an elastic cloud-based architecture that can scale up or down is the best resource.
“To deliver optimal customer experience during the holidays, you want an ecosystem in place ready to integrate with other computer platforms,” he explained. “You can connect to clouds and back-end systems and infrastructure in between in the same ecosystem; you scale up and down.” In addition, retailers can contract with cloud providers to ensure their networks stay operational during especially intense periods of holiday demand.
“Retailers need the ability to burst beyond expectations so their computer networks can handle spikes in traffic they aren’t expecting,” Yanko said. “What if demand for products shuts down commerce across your property? It’s especially not good on Black Friday. Analyze what you have capacity for and contract with a cloud provider to scale beyond your normal infrastructure if needed.”
He also urged retailers to perform load testing of network applications, server and database infrastructure, and data input/ output capacity.
“The network serves as a machine bus, executing the client/server relationship across the network,” said Yanko. “It’s how we do e-commerce. If network applications are not optimized for communication across the network, it’s where you run into the most problems. Load test to identify bottlenecks. You may need to adjust infrastructure or refactor code.”
Retailers should remember that the end-of-year holidays are not the only seasonal event that places extra demand on their networks. Other events that test many retailers’ network capacities include back-to-school, new product releases and changes in seasons. Retailers can practice for the holidays during these smaller events during the year.
“You can get policies and procedures in place for the real event,” advised Yanko. “It doesn’t pay to be reactive this time of year.
Getting Smart About Product Information
When a retailer includes the word “brain” right in its name, a certain level of operational intelligence is expected. For 30-plus-unit specialty educational toy and game retailer Marbles: The Brain Store, smartening up operations has included organizing product data on the Salsify product information management platform to provide merchandise intelligence across the organization.
For the 2015 holiday season, Marbles input new workflows, photos and other digital assets for direct mail holiday catalogs into the Salsify database.
“We’re notified if catalog inventory gets low,” said Hallie Steube, director of marketing at Marbles. “We log in every day and check inventory. We also adjust graphics used for our home page and marketing emails.”
In addition, Marbles streamlined the research and selection of items for its holiday assortment using a mobile app developed by Salsify to help the company’s chief merchant attend global trade shows and collect information on potential new products.
“Our chief merchant formerly used spreadsheets,” Steube said. “Now with the app, he takes a picture and creates an item with basic product information. He can also record verbal commitments from vendors. Later on, he completes the entries to present proposed new merchandise to the product management group.”