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GUEST OPINION Second coming – this time the revolution will be mobilised

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The mobile revolution is better poised for a second in-store uprising believes, Jonathan Wharrad, Business Development Director, EMEA, at customer-facing device specialist, Moki. But how will it come about this time?

Mobile devices are going to revolutionise the role of the store. Does this statement sound familiar? For several years, technology vendors have been heralding the blending of online/offline experiences within retail stores, through the power of connected tablets and smartphones. The truth of the matter, though, is that this simply hasn’t happened on a wide scale.

There are retailers still experimenting with an omnichannel store environment, but most businesses have either failed to embrace in-store mobile, or their mobility projects have stalled at pilot stage. I bet this statement also sounds familiar to many of you!

What went wrong the first time round?

First things first, it’s important to remember that the theoretical appetite for bringing mobile technology into the store has always been present. Back in 2012, forward-looking retailers wanted to introduce devices in order to identify customers, get closer to them and hopefully sell more based on those enhanced relationships.

As omnichannel developed – first as a concept, then as a business model – mobile became the go-to channel through which retailers could understand shoppers’ online value within the store environment, creating a true 360 degree picture of their individual brand value. It could also be used to counteract the shortcomings of bricks and mortar; removing inventory restrictions and customer service limitations to create the endless aisle experience that consumers were accustomed to online.

This sounds idyllic – so why isn’t every single retailer offering an integrated mobile experience within their stores today? The reasons so many projects failed to progress beyond pilot stage are multitude, but here are some of the most common.

Weak or unclear business cases

In the rush to embrace the latest technological innovation, many retail businesses invested in mobile devices that, once trialled in their store environment, turned out to be unfit for purpose. With this area of mobility in its infancy, up-front hardware costs were high, and subsequent unforeseen outgoings – such as device maintenance, or investing in compatible peripherals such as mobile printers and payment entry devices – also impacted return on investment.

And don’t forget how covetable tablets were to consumers; retailers without sufficient security in place found themselves falling victim to tablet theft. Another unanticipated cost.

Controlling control

While most retailers invested resources into the research and purchase of mobile devices, many were unprepared for the logistical implications associated with integrating and managing hardware within the context of store operations.

Traditional mobile device management (MDM) doesn’t answer the needs of controlling customer facing devices. Retailers faced the sensitive challenge of providing users with enough functionality to improve customer service, without enabling access to areas outside their remit – or giving them scope to make changes that could impact the wider business.

The rapidly changing nature of retail also created a headache; devices not only needed consistent configuration at set-up stage, but hands-free updates had to be made across the hardware estate in order to prolong device use.

Scalability and security

In line with the challenge of centralised command, some retailers struggled to roll out their pilot programmes across the business in a controllable and sustainable manner. While the hardware itself might have functioned efficiently, integrating legacy systems data and applications onto mobile data was a much larger challenge.

Equally, the larger the device network, the greater risk of security breaches – both in terms of physical theft and cybercrime attacks.

User interest

Don’t forget that consumer mobile adoption has increased exponentially over the past 18 months; the climate when first phase mobile trials were taking place was very different. Education and training is essential to the success of mobility integration, and discrepancies in functionality and device capabilities had a major impact on user receptiveness.

For many retailers, initial excitement among retail workers gave way to apathy or even retaliation, as less technology-led individuals struggled to incorporate new protocol into their daily routines. Add to this the regular staff turnover, and some companies found themselves having to retrain new employees after barely getting initial users fully on board.

Why should things be different this time round?

Consumer attitudes towards mobile are a great indication of how dramatically things have changed since these initial retailer experiments took place. Smartphones and tablets have become an intrinsic part of our culture, and both sides of the coin – retailers and customers – are ready to formally integrate those devices into their retail experiences. Providers such as Intel are leading the way in this area through cost-efficient, valuable and reliable hardware.

One major advance that new tablet solutions have brought is the ability to analyse the success of digital interactions enabling retailers to understand the engagement levels of customers with their customer facing devices. In this regard, retailers can evaluate what content and functions shoppers have used and can tailor and optimise them accordingly to drive future use and loyalty.

In addition, the cost and complexity of introducing mobile technology to the store has changed. Leading mobility solution providers are offering what is called ‘staging’, where management capabilities are installed in devices in the factory, meaning products are delivered ready for deployment.

The use and maintenance of mobile devices has also advanced significantly in recent years. Application sophistication has come on leaps and bounds, enabling greater integration of back-end functionality, while software updates can be made seamlessly in the cloud. In fact, all management can now take place remotely, including monitoring and implementing data security standards.

And don’t underestimate the power of simple improvements such as in-store WiFi. Reliable connections empower retail staff to incorporate mobile technology that facilitate digital interactions into everyday trading, confident that it will enhance customer service – rather than lead to loss of signal embarrassment.

While overcoming issues surrounding total control, security, management and such like might not shift the mobile landscape in isolation, when advances in all of these areas are combined, they create a compelling case for using smart phone and tablets in-store. The mobile revolution might not have set the world alight first time round, but the fire was never extinguished, and its flames now growing in intensity, read for a second uprising. Watch this space.

To learn more, download Moki’s latest report, Hearts on Fire or Ashes to Ashes? Reigniting the retail industry’s love a¬ffair with in-store mobile technology.

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