Mobile in the Retail Store

Like their customers, retailers increasingly rely on mobile devices. Here’s the strategy retailers need to optimize their mobile ROI.

Mobile in retail
Although it has only four locations, Nebraska Furniture Mart® is routinely billed as North America’s largest home-furnishings retailer. Its Colony, Texas site boasts 560,000 square feet of retail and 1.3 million square feet of warehouse and distribution space.

Despite being founded in 1937, it’s also a forward-looking user of mobile technology. Some is targeted at consumers — including a Wayfinder app to help customers navigate its vast interiors. And some is for sales associates, allowing them to help customers compare thousands of items and to handle point-of-sale (POS) transactions.

More retailers are discovering the power of mobile technology in the hands of employees. But whether you’re a niche fashion boutique or a 1,000-location pharmacy, you need to deploy mobile tools in ways that will deliver return on investment. And for that you need a mobile strategy

“If you simply hand out mobile devices without thinking through how they’ll benefit employees, how they’ll benefit customers and how you’ll use them differently from competitors,” says Steve Pike, CompuCom® director of device and mobility services, “you won’t realize the full advantages of mobile in retail.”

Connecting With Customers

According to retailers, the top reasons to deploy mobile capabilities for employees are to manage work schedules (51 percent), access corporate product information (41 percent), assist with selling (38 percent), access HR and training materials (37 percent) and handle tasks such as replenishment (28 percent).1

Figure 1: Mobility in the Retail Store - Mobile devices are empowering store operations across retail functions
Because employees can use mobile technology in so many ways, mobile devices can go a long way in improving productivity. (See Figure 1.) They also give your sales associates opportunities to help customers find the merchandise they want and upsell customers to more profitable items. And because they can be used as POS terminals, they can reduce customer wait times and capture sales before customers change their minds and walk out the door. 

What’s more, deploying mobile devices to your sales associates can improve the way customers perceive your brand. “All your customers are using mobile devices,” Pike points out. “They let your people access product information in the same way your customers do, which places them closer to the customer experience.”

Start With Strategy

But you can’t just hand out mobile devices and hope for the best. Instead, you want to be sure devices are actually being used, corporate and personal data is adequately protected, and both employees and customers are benefitting. For that, you need a mobile strategy.

Pike suggests starting by documenting exactly what you’ll use mobile for. “How you use mobile tools will determine how you manage them,” he explains. For example, if sales associates will use devices only to access your store’s mobile app, then security isn’t a major issue, but you’ll need to be sure updated versions of the app will continue to work with older devices. If employees will use devices to access email or other corporate systems, then security is a factor, as are details like personalization.

Similarly, will all employees have a personal device they can take home with them? Or will sales associates leave devices at the store for others to use? If so, each end user will have to log out before passing the device to the next user.

Different use-case scenarios will dictate different mobile device management (MDM) solutions and support approaches. A single-purpose device will require simple training. A multiuse device might require ongoing training, plus service desk support. And what happens when a device breaks? If each employee has a separate device, you might need broken equipment replaced overnight. If multiple devices are shared by sales associates, then a slower but lower-cost replacement option might be better.

Consumers Dial Up Mobile Commerce

Smartphones are now the leading source of e-commerce traffic, accounting for 60 percent of e-commerce traffic at the end of last year.2 The number of mobile users who “frequently” or “always” purchase on mobile has topped 50 percent.3

Mobile will also become integral to the in-store experience as consumers embrace mobile payments, expected to explode from $75 billion in 2016 to $503 billion by 2020.4

Retail market leaders say the top reasons to provide mobile capabilities to customers are to let them check product price or availability (50 percent), find and select merchandise (50 percent), schedule store pickup (36 percent), check order status (32 percent) and compare prices (32 percent).5

ROI on the Go

Finally, you need to monitor mobile-device usage to be sure you’re getting return on your investment. Regular reporting can show which devices are in use and which are noncompliant — because they’re broken or their WiFi connection is switched off, for instance. If you have thousands of devices across hundreds of locations, such reporting can make or break the success of your mobile efforts.

Other measurements will reflect your specific use case. If you’re using mobile devices as POS terminals, you can measure the number of transactions they handle. If you’re using them to improve processes, you can measure productivity.

“One of our retail clients sells gasoline and actually owns the tankers that deliver fuel,” Pike relates. “In the past the driver had to get signoff from the store manager after delivering fuel. If the manager was unavailable, the driver had to wait. Today the driver uses a mobile device to get digital approval from a regional manager.” The streamlined process enables drivers to make one additional delivery per day, on average — for a tremendous cost savings.

Whatever your goals for mobile, make the investment that will optimize returns. “We’re working with one retailer that planned to handle break-fix mobile repairs with internal IT staff,” Pike says. “But they realized technicians would have to travel great distances from store to store while sales associates waited for equipment to be fixed. It made much more sense for them to outsource that task. They no longer have the headache, broken devices are replaced overnight, and retail staff can focus on serving customers.”

1 “Mobile in Retail: The New Normal,” RSR Research, April 2016
2 “Smartphones Overtake Computers as Top E-Commerce Traffic Source,” Bloomberg Technology, July 2016
3 “Mobile in Retail: The New Normal,” RSR Research, April 2016
4 “The Mobile Payments Report,” Business Insider, June 2016
5 “Mobile in Retail: The New Normal,” RSR Research, April 2016

CompuCom® is a registered trademark of CompuCom Systems, Inc.
Nebraska Furniture Mart® is a registered trademark of Nebraska Furniture Mart, Inc.

All data cited in this article is used by permission.

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