Retail in Asia

In Trends

Taking Stock: Retail devices reinvented

It used to be verbal instructions or handwritten notes to staff – simple, direct, and personal. Then as neighborhood stores became groceries, became supermarkets and eventually hypermarkets, retailers have sought to keep staff and retail associates in the loop through various technologies. Radios, paging systems, the Intercom, and mobile connected devices replaced the manual and verbal instructions.

But an analog retail system in a highly mobile connected world is fast ushering in a new era in retail workforce management.

A report published by Motorola Solutions last December showed that 61 percent of retail managers believe that shoppers are better connected to information than in-store associates, increasing from nearly 59 percent in 2011 and 51 percent in 2010.

On the other hand, eight in ten (79 percent) retail associates agreed that store management can better manage employees and operational processes when empowered with technology and better information. Moreover, 82 percent agreed that improving in-store communication between staff and managers would have a positive effect on shopper satisfaction.

The reality is starting to sink in to both managers and staff that today’s retail environment has evolved to become a complex ecosystem that thrives on the overlapping world of the physical store, the online world and mobile commerce.

In a recent press preview in Kuala Lumpur of its new retail systems, which was also showcased at the National Retail Federation (NRF) Conference earlier this year, Motorola showcased how they are reinventing retail devices to fit this new ecosystem. Here is a sneak peak of some of these devices and technologies.

The Smart Badge 1

You hang this around your neck like an ID card. It also shows the retail associates’ name and position. It can be used to check prices, product information and inventory stock for handy reference when a shopper needs information on products available on shelves.

It’s not a mobile phone but it looks like one and functions like one. Retail associates can receive messages from their managers and co-workers on this device. Messages could be instructions, tasks, reminders, alerts or call for assistance. The device then can issue acknowledgement of the receipt of the message or instruction and alerts the system when a task is completed. The information is sent to an analytics engine that can calculate the productivity of an employee.

Scale this to hundreds or even thousands of employees across the store and even across branches, and the retail establishment gets a good overview of the workflow, the processes and the areas of improvement in the day-to-day operations.

The Retail Mobile Computer

A customer walks into a store, takes a shopping cart, scans the loyalty card, takes a mobile computer then move to the shopping aisles. With this device, the customer can scan his or her way around the store, locate products, check prices, browse product information, receive promotional offers.

The idea, said Motorola, is to make the shopping experience interactive and turn each customer visit into actionable business intelligence.

By using the device, customers get a convenient way to shop, but retailers also gain as they can easily identify the customer and present real-time special offers and discounts, cross-sell, and other insights such as how much is being spent per visit and how much time the customer spent inside the retail premise.

The Mobile Workforce Management software

Seeking to turn manual task management for large in-store mobile workforces, Motorola developed the Mobile Workforce Management (MVM) software to power retail devices like the Smart Badge 1 and the entire fleet of the retail mobile computers.

The HTML5 mobile client for MWM was built on the RhoMobile suite enabling supervisors and store associates to create tasks from their mobile devices and having the system auto assign these tasks based on the configured rules. The application intelligently pushes tasks to store associates and sends back a report to the system when it is completed. This real-time information and feedback (made available through real-time dashboards) enables management to adjust workflows, reassess policies and introduce innovations in the operations as needed.

MVM also simplifies communications within the store and integrate in-store and business systems, including time and attendance, labor planning, project scheduling, promotion management, Point of Sale (POS), kiosks, RFID sensors.

Then and now, the goal remained the same – keeping it simple, direct and personal, yet more efficient on a larger scale.

Taking Stock is Retail In Asia’s forthnightly column dedicated to showcasing opinions from experts in the retail industry.