Retailers Aren't Sold on In-Store Mobility and Wireless Systems

A recent Retail Systems Research report explains why retailers aren't rolling out mobile applications for their employees and customers, even though they should be.

By Thomas Wailgum
Tue, May 27, 2008

CIO — No doubt, retailers are facing tough economic times as gas prices surge, real estate troubles persist and employment worries increase. As a result, U.S. consumer confidence recently dropped to its lowest point in 16 years.

At the same time, many retailers are delaying or cutting back on technology initiatives at precisely the time when, industry watchers say, IT-based services can deliver enhanced customer service, more efficient store operations and competitive advantage. (See "Retailers Are Winning by Focusing on Customer-Centric Systems -- Not Whining About the Economy" for more on how retailers are coping with the downturn.)

One of those areas for opportunity is to connect with customers using mobile and wireless technologies, according Paula Rosenblum, a managing partner at Retail Systems Research (RSR), in a May 2008 RSR benchmark report called "The Customer-Centric Store."

Rosenblum points out two areas in which retailers can provide better customer service and experiences using new mobility tools: In-store managers can use wireless applications on handhelds to spend more time with customers on the selling floor; shoppers also can receive product and promotion information on their own mobile devices while in the stores. (See "Retailers' No. 1 Tech Priority Is Business Intelligence" for more on how retailers are aiming to serve customers better.)

So far, however, most retailers have been less than enthusiastic about mobility and the potential efficiencies and expanded service options it can deliver, which is troubling to Rosenblum. "The dearth of mobility in store has to change," she says.

RSR survey results detailed in the report illustrate retailers' reluctance: Just 22 percent of 126 respondents said mobile applications were a very important technology, and 40 percent perceived little to no value in bringing key performance indicators (KPIs) (such as how certain products are selling) and alerts directly to those employees on the sales floor. Similarly, only 21 percent said delivering product information to customers' handheld devices was very valuable, and 40 percent thought there was little or no value in that. (For more on how businesses are missing out on mobile opportunities, see "Blowing Mobile.")

To Rosenblum, retailers who do not embrace and offer mobile options will face serious consequences. "The lack of the ability to support wireless in the store is going to kick them in the [rear]," she says. "It's going to create more problems for retailers than the data breaches they've experienced to date."

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