With the rise in the use of mobile in store and its importance in the omnichannel experience, InternetRetailing asked James Pepper, Technical Director, Vista Retail Support to share his expertise on future-proofing the technology.
Mobility is expanding in retail, as store owners increasingly deploy tablets and other hand-held technology for assisted selling, customer self-service, staff training and visual merchandising.
The technology is being embraced in many different retail sectors where it drives efficiency and delivers multiple benefits. While bringing great improvements in customer engagement, it cuts costs, makes staff better informed and ensures that stock availability is optimised.
However, for any retail business, changing in-store technology is a major organisational upheaval that has many facets and needs to be thoroughly well-planned.
There are some fundamental requirements that retailers have to address if they are to guarantee a smooth and profitable transition to mobile technology in their stores.
Firstly, it is worth considering the purpose of the project. Is it purely to boost revenue, to comply with legislation or in response to customer demand? What is installed must produce a return on investment and be convenient and simple to use, so it is important not to let the project drift by adding more functionality than was in the original brief, unless it can be delivered within budget and on time.
The next step is to choose the right hardware. Hardware purchases are all too often chosen after the selection of the software solution and payment applications. This is a potential pitfall that must be avoided. If the device being deployed is a tablet, for instance, then it is likely that the peripheral components such as printers, hand-scanners and PIN entry devices (PEDs) will rely on wireless or Bluetooth technology. The connectivity with these devices needs to be robust, because if it is not, a retailer will have the kind of problems that keep helpdesks busy.
When selecting hardware, it is crucial to ensure it will work seamlessly with the chosen software solution and payment applications. To give some reassurance that the software solution being bought works in the day-to-day retail environment, case studies and references from the customers currently using it should be requested from the provider.
The everyday functioning of this technology will inevitably rely on a wireless LAN, which needs to be robust and entirely dependable. To ensure connectivity does not fail, a retailer needs to ensure the premises are properly surveyed and the best solution for the specific environment is selected from the many on the market.
A poor Wi-Fi signal, interference from other networks and bungled installation will be felt in lost data, sales and revenue. Staff will stop using the new mobile technology, which in turn will have a negative impact on customer service and brand image.
To ensure the entire system works, a store operator needs to employ an IT services provider that is experienced in the surveying and installation of Wi-Fi networks.
Quality of deployment is a big issue that has the potential to ruin a newly-installed system. Therefore, the services company undertaking the work should have sufficient experience under its belt from a large number of retail customer projects.
Further expertise will also be needed if a retailer is going to use the new equipment to process payments. Compliance with the standards laid down by the Payment Card Industry Security Standards Council (PCI) must be guaranteed. A good Qualified Security Assessor will be able to lead a store operator through these requirements, with the caveat that it is easy to over-estimate requirements.
Once compliance has been established, the IT services company can successfully deploy point-to-point encryption of card payment data, standard chip-and-pin card security and Wi-Fi at point-of-sale.
But what if the equipment fails? In reality, it takes much administrative effort, expert diagnosis and support to ensure faults are remedied, so retailers should always obtain back-up with a high level of expertise and retail experience. Getting it wrong will result in repeat visits, additional costs, incorrect parts being ordered and general dissatisfaction.
It is also advisable that retail IT teams use remote monitoring applications to check the functioning efficiency and location of the new devices. Software updates can be deployed to the devices remotely, which cuts down the costs of future implementations.
Up to this point we have only considered the technology. But what about the staff who have to use it, or who may have to help customers take advantage of it? Introducing new technology into a retail environment will generate the need for training, so it needs to be carefully planned as part of a change management programme involving all stakeholders, including store staff, IT personnel, service partners – and customers.
By including all these parties in the solution-planning stages, it is possible to reduce the kind of resistance that leads to neglect or misuse of the equipment and failure to follow the new processes.
Shifting over to mobile technology can be a daunting and expensive experience for any retailer, but by following the guidance above, the chances of being left with dud devices, angry customers and an unexpectedly hefty bill will be substantially reduced.