by Paul Broome

Why consumerisation is raising the bar for retailers

Oct 25, 20114 mins
IT LeadershipMobileMobile Apps

Powerful computer systems were once the reserve of large, air conditioned, false floored palaces.

But the rise of the smart phone has turned this on its head, and now the most powerful tools are carried in a person’s hands.

Due to people’s interaction with modern web browsers, poor user experience in terms of speed, intuitiveness and compatibility mean instant death to poorly designed technologies.

This has huge implications for businesses. Take the retail industry as an example.

In our personal lives, we use common communications tools that work in an intuitive way. If we pick up an Android or Apple smartphone, chances are it will only take us seconds to work out how to use it.

But in the retail industry, every POS system is built differently. A shop assistant can use a smart phone in their personal life that senses gravity, knows its location, can connect to the internet, play games and even make a phone call.

And yet the technology they have to use at work can be clunky and unintuitive.

In an environment characterised by high staff turnover and constant use of temporary workers, and where customer loyalty is at a premium, this doesn’t make sense.

In-store technology should work intuitively.

POS systems hold immense value for retailers. They can offer a real-time view of sales and stock to help managers respond faster to customer demands, for example.

They can centralise data collection so head office has easy access to relevant information across all their brands.

Pricing and promotions can be automatically synchronised across all POS terminals, so that customers receive fast and efficient service.

The industry I work in is in need of a giant makeover.

The web browser is replacing most of the bespoke client front-ends in commercial systems and links, rollovers and pop ups are cultural mores that the retail industry needs to follow.

The browser is agnostic to platform, and should be the channel of choice for all new POS systems.

HTML5, with its ability to support touch technology and web sockets for native network speeds means serious ePOS products can be created quickly and expanded using SaaS models.

The evolution of tablets also means the hardware on which to base these new POS systems is cheap – and millions of R&D dollars are being spent on expanding their scope and range.

If all POS systems were based on tablets, the cost would be driven down even further and the whole industry would benefit from a Henry Ford type of automation.

HTML5’s deep interface into tablets also means they can have orientation and acceleration and sense gravity. Who would have thought that a browser could respond to these things?

For a shop assistant focused on customer service and generating sales, this is revolutionary. It means they can have information for a customer query at their fingertips.

They can change the angle of the POS, its orientation and what is on it in microseconds, based on what is being asked of them.

For the retailer, it means workers need minimal training, and can upsell and cross sell more effectively, spending more time engaging with customers.

The physical mobility of thebrowser-based tablet and the near ubiquity of 3G networks mean pop-up shops and restaurants can start at the drop of a pay-as-you-go 3G SIM card with a tablet. No more long waits for a data line to be installed.

3G is good enough for running HTML-based POS systems. Combining a land line and 3G means redundancy is now within the reach of all businesses, not just the few top tier. Cloud-based systems and SaaS also offer scalability to cover peaks and troughs in demand.

The web browser and HTML5, plus portable touch technologies in tablets and phones, means that POS system manufacturers have an increasingly challenging but fascinating job on their hands.

Customers want a more personalised shopping experience and workers want intuitive systems that help them to deliver that experience and generate customer loyalty and sales.

Technologists in the retail industry need to understand that there are now common ways to work, and that more people want to work this way.

Raising the bar will be good for everyone.

Paul Broome is CTO of Torex

Pic: garryknightcc2.0