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Mobilising the point-of-sale

Mobilising the point-of-sale

Mobilising the point-of-sale

Paul Skeldon, Mobile Editor, InternetRetailing examines the rise of the mobile POS in store

We live in a mobile world and there is no getting around it. Mobile accounts for around 50% of all ecommerce traffic in the UK and recently mobile usage for general browsing at home tipped the balance against desktop. Visit a store though and you could be forgiven for thinking that mobile hasn’t been invented yet.

While shoppers have embraced the technology wholeheartedly, retailers themselves have been slow to leverage mobile as a tool that they can use in store to not only streamline how they do business, but to revolutionise the shopping experience.

On the face of it, there are distinct advantages to bringing mobile into the store. For starters, the customers and most of the staff are mobile savvy and, thanks to the rise in online shopping, most people now expect a more ‘online’ experience even in the real world.

Secondly, mobile offers retailers a way to be more engaging with shoppers, bust queues, check stock, up and cross-sell from the shopfloor and convert even those out-of-stock hunters to sales.

This latter area is the one where there is most to gain and where the balance between outlay and ROI is most strong for retailers. And it all starts at the POS.

One of the biggest bugbears of the shopping experience is the queue. On a busy Saturday afternoon you can literally queue for hours in some stores, which costs millions in lost revenue when many shoppers give up. Changing how this works is not only a mobile issue but a business imperative.

“Many retailers are increasingly choosing to offer in-store mobile devices to run their point of sales systems,” says Mehdi Daoudi, CEO and Co-founder of Catchpoint Systems, a digital performance management company. “Cash registers can be replaced by tablets that run POS software and can complete credit card transactions. This enables the shopping assistants to complete credit card transactions from anywhere in the store, which downsizes the queue to cash-only buyers and makes the shopping experience more efficient.”

Many retailers believe that they already have a mobile POS system: a card machine that can work handheld anywhere in the store. They’d be right, but what true mobile POS brings is a tool that can link not only the way people pay, but also how consumers and shop assistants interact and how loyalty and more play into one process.


Many retailers who are upgrading are switching to using tablets as a ‘till’ at the checkout, but like the untethered card readers, these too don’t amount to mobile checkout, either. Like many things in the ‘digital’ world they form a mere carapace over an old technology.

Instead, what is needed is to mobilise the workforce on the shopfloor, arming them with tablets that can take payments, but also which can keep them abreast of what is in stock, which loyalty options are available to that customer and how they can perhaps upsell them.

Taking payments is the hardest part of the in-store mobile process. Card processors such as Mastercard and Visa view transactions completed in store on tablets as ‘customer present’ and so they need chip and PIN back up to approve the transaction.

“This is usually achieved by connecting a PIN pad to a tablet wirelessly by Bluetooth,” says Martin Ryan, Director of Technology Consulting at Javelin Group. “To maintain customer and staff confidence, it is important that the overall user experience is straightforward. This approach has been adopted by Marks & Spencer on its estate of 1,500 iPads.”

There are also plug in devices such as iZettle and Square that can turn any mobile device into a chip and PIN payment machine, but their uptake has been relatively slow. When did you last see one in a store?

“However, PoS vendors are actively investing in mobility for their solutions and this area is in rapid change, including the rise of new services such as Apple Pay and tablet-based PoS such as Revel,” says Ryan.

To date most retailers that have done this have seen staff using their own devices, which brings its own raft of problems.

According to research in the US by Syntonic and Information Solutions Group, 64% of respondents use their personal smartphone for work. However, there is a huge lack awareness about the rules of engagement, with almost half (43%) unaware of their company’s BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policy and only 29% receiving reimbursement.

Compensation here is key, as 60% of employees said fair reimbursement for BYOD changes how they use their device. Without it, there is a growing reluctance to dip into personal data plans, potentially delaying the completion of tasks and negatively impacting productivity.

This BYOD culture also makes it much harder for retailers to turn the roving, device-armed shop assistant into an actual point-of-sale, as you then cross the line between payments and staff.

The issues don’t end there. “Yet while in-store devices can have a large impact on the productivity of your sales assistants, it also leaves your business exposed to performance issues,” says Catchpoint’s Daoudi. “For example, if a sales associate announces that they can take customers who wish to pay with a credit card out of line to complete their purchase faster by using the mobile purchase order systems this will initially leave the buyers happy. Yet the checkout process is at risk of being greatly slowed down if that mobile POS device begins to experience performance issues. This would ultimately cause frustration amongst customers, many of whom would walk away and would be less likely to return to your store.”

In order to avoid this and to make sure that the in-store mobile devices improve your customers’ shopping experience, on-premise monitoring of these more diverse digital systems and how they engender great retail customer experiences is key. If done right, the blending of in-store and mobile shopping will enable your business to succeed.

But perhaps the biggest issue with the proliferation of mobile devices as a means of extending POS out on to the shopfloor is managing them all. Where BYOD falls down most is that the retailer has little or no control over it. As mobile instore becomes more common, retailers are going to have to have a much more rigorous device management policy and system and even their own tablet ecosystem if they are to thrive.

“In the same way that personal desktop and laptop computers need to be managed and maintained centrally, tablets also need to be supported,” says Ryan. “Required functions include an internal ‘app store’ to add and maintain applications, security management, asset register and removal of unwanted features. With many retailers now having thousands of devices tablets cannot be maintained on an ad hoc basis.”

Retailers also need to consider the operating system that is used, how that works with its other systems and how that displays its own website. There are also issues of device ruggedness, battery life, charging, security and more. Not to mention the kind of functionality that the device should make use of: what can you do with the camera, the barcode scanner and so on.

All these issues are going to face all bricks and mortar retailers in the coming years as they inevitably have to embrace mobile in the store as a POS system and replace the old ways of doing things with the new.

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