With inconsistent footfall growth, retailers now more than ever are trying to enable their store teams with the right devices to meet the expectations of new age connected shoppers as they walk-in to the store.

We live in an age where every object of desire is expected to be always available, accompanied with exhaustive product details, instantly comparable prices and real-time delivery options. Consumers increasingly shut the age-old phenomenon of “satisficing,” which involved settling for satisfactory products due to limitations in product information, inventory availability and sometimes, store access itself. Shopping habits such as coupon hunting, bargaining and holiday shopping are giving way to hyper-personalized customer journeys through smartphones, voice-activated virtual assistants supported by logistics solutions such as curbside pick-up.

44% of shoppers believe that they are better informed about store merchandize compared to an associate who is servicing them, according to a 2018 Zebra shopping survey. This invariably puts the typical store associate on the defensive. 60% of shoppers say store associates who use mobile devices for customer assistance improve their shopping experience*. With inconsistent footfall growth, retailers now more than ever are trying to enable their store teams with the right devices to meet the expectations of new age connected shoppers as they walk-in to the store.

However, as retailers have discovered, choosing the right device for every associate is not an easy task. Based on our work with multiple retailers, we advise a three-step approach that starts by defining the business needs for devices, evaluating the device options and finally, looking at auxiliary parameters which influence the total cost of operations, or TCO.

The variability in retail store roles mean that the first step would be to identify, aggregate and streamline a comprehensive set of business requirements and device expectations from each role holder. Let’s look at three such cases:

In-store operations not only includes the ability to perform inventory management tasks such as receiving, stocking, cycle counts, picking, packing and shipping of orders, but also planogram and pricing audits (markdowns) to make sure that the customer experience doesn’t suffer due to stock outs or price mismatch.

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Assisted selling capabilities implies offering customers availability, price, offers and bundling information for merchandise while interacting with them on the shop floor rather than leaving them hanging while asking around for information from multiple colleagues.

Workforce communication enables store associates to have inter- and intra-store communication in real time (includes both voice and messaging capability). Conversion being a direct function of face time with shoppers, the productivity uptick as store managers and associates start operating effectively regardless of location using their mobile device alone would drive the ROI.

These use cases may be specifically for in-store scenarios; however, this exercise should look at defining requirements for the extended retail supply chain including distribution centers and even customer homes. Processes and consequently, device usage cut across departmental boundaries with a direct impact on Net Promoter Scores. Therefore, there is a need for greater efficiency across the business landscape with deployments planned for an enterprise wide footprint.

Once the business requirements have been defined, we would proceed to step two where we understand device specifications required for enabling use cases defined above. This includes parameters such as the device platform (Android, iOS, Windows), processing power (CPU, memory), rugged specifications (sealing, drop spec, tumble test), retail-specific data capture options (scanning, camera, NFC, RFID etc.), wireless networking (WWAN, WLAN, WPAN), battery life and accessories. Along with these parameters, we also need to look at device set up, supportability and staff training required for managing devices in the field.

The final step is to decide which devices would be best suited for the hardware specifications and use cases defined in previous steps. Store associates lose an average of 75 minutes each time their mobile devices fail, according to a VDC research study**. Additionally, the data handled is usually sensitive. There are two broad categories of devices:

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  • Enterprise devices
  • Consumer devices

Enterprise devices are built to work specifically in the retail store environment and hence they do outperform consumer devices in most of the hardware specifications mentioned above. The trade-off would be in terms of higher initial acquisition cost. Both categories would support enterprise mobile efforts, but they have major differences in terms of lifecycle, data capture capability, rugged specifications and security features, which would influence TCO down the line. Therefore, enterprise leaders should choose the device which aligns with the organization’s vision and culture.

In most scenarios, it might make sense to have both these devices implemented for different operational reasons within the same enterprise landscape. For example, enterprise devices can be used for doing day-to-day operations like scanning, picking, price auditing, order shipping (sensitive data) and consumer devices can be used for assisted selling and internal communications.

Having a store mobile/handheld device strategy is becoming increasingly table stakes for any retailer. However, this requires methodical planning and execution, starting with device selection. A structured device assessment framework helps retailers successfully navigate their store handheld journey and make the right device choices. More importantly, the framework we outlined offers a comprehensive view of store personnel roles, business functions and SOPs, associated use-cases and device options.

Traditional paths-to-purchase has certainly evolved with the needs of the tech-savvy generation. The new moments of truth in the retail world are all about convenience, personalization and immediacy. In-store, that begins with empowering the store associates with the tools to play the role of savvy personal shopping assistants.

*Source: 2018 Zebra Shopper Vision Survey

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**Source: “Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) Models for Mobile Computing and Communications Platforms,” VDC Research, 2014

Faraz Ghani is a principal consultant with Wipro Domain Consulting Group.

Gopi Krishnan is the global head and vice president of industry domain & consulting services group for Wipro’s Consumer Business Unit, which serves clients in a range of consumer-focused industries including retail and consumer packaged goods.

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