Retail TouchPoints: Store Associates Want Mobile Devices For Inventory, Price

Discussion
Feb 22, 2011

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion
is a summary of a current article from the Retail TouchPoints website.

According
to Motorola’s 2010 Retail Holiday Study, more than 68 percent
of store associates would like to have mobile devices to "scan barcodes
to check inventory/availability." A total of 64 percent of the 545 associates
interviewed would use mobile technology to "scan barcodes for price check" and
50.5 percent would use mobile devices as walkie-talkies, to communicate with
other store employees.

In general, approximately 33 percent of store associates
believe they lack the information they need to serve today’s highly connected
consumers. "Managers
in particular feel the pressure of out-of-stock complaints," the report
noted.

Equally troubling, approximately 28 percent of store visits end in an
average of $132 unspent due to abandoned purchases, according to the report.
The reasons for that abandonment varies from issues such as out-of-stocks to
limited store associate assistance and long check-out processes. Shoppers also
leave stores when they find a better deal at a competitor — often as
a result of a real-time search on a personal mobile device.

The type of products
abandoned in stores also varies, with clothing and accessories topping the
list at 30.8 percent. Department store abandonment is at 25.9 percent and consumer
electronics/computer purchases are abandoned 20.4 percent of the time.

With
technology in hand, store associates could save a high percentage of potentially
lost sales. More than 42 percent of shoppers said they would order an out-of-stock
item and have it delivered to their home and 40 percent said they would come
back to the store when the item is in stock for a 10 percent discount. In total, "up
to 55 percent of out-of-stock incidents could be intercepted simply with store
associate help to find the item(s) and complete the transaction," the
study noted.

Discussion Questions: Which mobile technologies will most benefit store associates now and in the future?

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16 Comments on "Retail TouchPoints: Store Associates Want Mobile Devices For Inventory, Price"

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Kevin Graff
Guest
6 years 9 months ago

Yes, sales associates would benefit from being able to scan items to determine sell benefits, in-stock levels and more. Depending on store format, being able to ring in the sale from the floor would also help. Accessing information and even skills training would be very worthwhile.

But, maybe the best form of ‘mobile’ help would be a comfortable pair of shoes so that the sales associates will actually go wait on a customer. Let’s not forget that retail isn’t about technology alone … it’s about people.

Dick Seesel
Guest
6 years 9 months ago

I have a mixed reaction to this survey, starting with the fact that it’s driven by a mobile-device provider and is thus somewhat self-serving. And I also think there is a fine line between sales associates using mobile devices (especially smartphones) for self-amusement versus driving sales. BrainTrust panelists had plenty to say on that subject last week.

But there will be a growing role for handheld devices no matter what, especially with the growth of tablet computers. The question is: How will sales associates be trained and empowered to use tablets and smartphones to take care of customers? Will they really be trained to search for inventory at other stores or on company websites, when many retailers barely train their sales associates to say hello, replenish shelves and keep dressing rooms clean?

One other comment: Kiosks and handheld devices are a great way for customers to buy product on websites if a store location is out of stock, but they are no substitute for better inventory management keeping that location in stock in the first place.

Fabien Tiburce
Guest
Fabien Tiburce
6 years 9 months ago

It is refreshing to read a story on what I believe to be mobility’s most immediate opportunity in retail today: the back office! While I am not discounting the importance of social and mobile marketing (B2C), I am afraid we are not collectively spending enough time discussing the significant benefits and savings that a mobile enabled retail workforce can achieve. Tablets and other mobile devices can deliver superior customer service and higher sales not just for price checking and inventory lookups but for all aspects of the store’s operations including compliance with standards, seasonal and other in-store merchandising programs, planogram compliance, etc….

Steve Montgomery
Guest
6 years 9 months ago

The time for the use of mobile technology for business purposes may have come, but it comes with some caveats. First, and foremost, the devices should be issued and controlled by the retailer so they can have power over what they can and cannot do and/or access. No retailer wants to give their employees a device that will allow them to check email, update Facebook, make or receive calls from whomever.

Second, the retailer has to determine what it is going to do when the store associate discovers the items the customer wants is out of stock or cheaper either online or down the street. Are they going to allow them to match the price, offer some value add, etc?

Paul R. Schottmiller
Guest
Paul R. Schottmiller
6 years 9 months ago

This survey is just one more example of how counter cultural the communication and collaboration tools are for the store associates (walkie talkies–really!!!). It must feel like stepping into the Twilight Zone when they don their vest, lock up their iPhone, and walk onto a sales floor akin to a communications desert.

The issue of “what is in-stock” will be further amplified as we continue to see the channels converge. Inventory management strategies will reflect the customer expectation that most of what is available is not stocked in the store, but it will still be easy and convenient to shop and purchase from the full assortment, while in the store (or anywhere else).

Bill Robinson
Guest
Bill Robinson
6 years 9 months ago

Magnificent report. These findings confirm my research. I teach college seniors a course on Retail Management. In the last three years I have asked similar questions of the students. Each year the receptivity of in-store mobile applications has risen by 100%. Three years ago 30% were receptive. Two years ago 60%. Last semester over 90%.

The retail workforce is dominated by young people especially during peak shopping hours. If this crowd is ready to exploit mobile technology for locating merchandise, price check, and ordering out-of-stock, retailers stand to gain enormously.

Gene Detroyer
Guest
6 years 9 months ago
I am sure those who read what I write don’t believe I ever go to a store. Actually I do sometimes. Yesterday (Presidents’ Day) I went shopping with my wife who was looking for shoes. We went to Macy’s 34th Street (among several other stores). The associates in the shoe department all had hand held devices. My wife would show a salesperson a shoe. They would scan the bar code on the sole. Their device would tell them if it was available in her size, if not what alternate sizes or colors. If she wanted to try it on, they obviously communicated with a backroom that produced the box(es) of shoes she wanted. I was impressed. No more disappearing into the stock room only to come out empty handed or with an alternative that was not acceptable. With regard to sales people ignoring the customers…that was not the case in this department. There were more sales people than there were customers. They were all over us. Of course it didn’t solve the OOS problem, it… Read more »
Cathy Hotka
Guest
6 years 9 months ago

As the retail landscape becomes ever more cutthroat, retailers might be less blase about losing sales due to uneven execution. This survey mirrors a study done by the Wharton School of Business in 2006 that showed that customers’ view of out-of-stocks is considerably higher than retailers’ view. Retailers assume they’re doing a great job, but customers disagree.

Mobile devices are only one answer.

Alex Nielsen
Guest
Alex Nielsen
6 years 9 months ago

I believe the RetailWire Instant Poll is worded incorrectly. Using mobile properly isn’t about finding the “biggest benefit in the near-term for store associates.” It’s about finding the biggest benefit to the customer.

The trick will be identifying the right type of information to arm associates with. It would be tremendously valuable, for example, if an associate could have easy access to cross-sell/up-sell information.

Another key is to not make the technology a distraction to old-fashioned customer service. Mobile devices on the floor should be understated and should be a tool for the associate, not a crutch.

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.
Guest
6 years 9 months ago

If the consumers can look up product information and prices on their smartphones, employees ought to have tools to give them access to that information plus additional company discounts, consumer purchase history, and inventory levels!

However, that is not enough for employees to be able to offer assistance. Product training is also critical for success. Consumers an access basic product information and price information so those are not the primary questions. How does the product work? What is the difference between models (not in terms of specs but in terms of how it operates), which models are better for which activities, when will it go on sale, or do you offer a low price guarantee?

These are company and product related questions that employees need to be able to answer. The issue is not solved by providing a smartphone device to employees; they still need training.

James Tenser
Guest
6 years 9 months ago

Very interesting findings. It’s not surprising to learn that younger retail employees arrive with a fair amount of “literacy” regarding mobile media. Neither is it a shock to learn that they may enjoy interacting with their devices more than with other people.

I’d agree that the retailer that empowers its people with sales support apps creates opportunities for a more beneficial staff-shopper interactions. Specific in-store practices will require training, but the innate ability to use the devices comes bundled within each store associate.

The next research project should query retail employees about how THEY would design in-store practices using their mobile devices. Tapping their collective intelligence is likely to reveal some imaginative ideas.

Larry Negrich
Guest
6 years 9 months ago

James, you hit the nail on the head. Retailers need to evaluate how mobile devices would be best utilized in their store environment then create the in-store practices to support them. Pads and other wireless smart devices could equip store personnel with the ability to provide inventory look-up, product location, roving checkout, customer preferences (customer supplied), and a host of other valuable customer service quickly. These devices used properly will help store associates deliver improved services that will contribute to increasing sales.

Ed Rosenbaum
Guest
6 years 9 months ago

Even thought the market survey was to a small group of sales associates, the results are accurate, if not possibly on the low side.

Mobile devices for store associates is long overdue probably because of the cost involved. Training would be minimal as everyone has some technology knowledge these days. My guess is if these devices were in the associates hands or availability the average lost share would drop from the $132 significantly and profits rise accordingly.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest
6 years 9 months ago

I have to second Richard’s observation (that a poll commissioned by a mobile device provider that concluded people want more mobile devices might be just a bit on the biased side) but my concerns go somewhat beyond that: even if the premise is true, the underlying assumption is that somewhere there is a business filled with roaming associates seeking to help people…where is this place(?), I’d love to give it a try. And after Pablo or Deshawn or LingSiu checks on their i-fad and informs me that “yes, we have it in stock: there are 63 in the storeroom,” only to then wander off to the next customer, how have I been made better off?

Ted Hurlbut
Guest
Ted Hurlbut
6 years 9 months ago
I’m going to jump on both Kevin and Richard’s comments and take them one step further. If retailers spent as much time focusing on actually serving customers as we do discussing the potential and capabilities of mobile technology, they’d go a long way to actually providing a level of service that customers might find compelling. To me, the ongoing discussion about mobile is a lot like talking about the frosting when most retailers can’t begin to get the cake right. Mobile technology is, like any other technology, a tool, not a ‘solution’. The solution is an organization wide commitment to serving customers personally, genuinely, one at a time, person-to-person, face-to-face. Gene’s story about shoe shopping at Macy’s, to me, is not first and foremost a story about technology. Rather, it’s a story about a profound (and rare) commitment to customer service, facilitated by the smart use of technology. Retailers need to first get the retailing basics right. Mobile is no substitute for that, any more than UPC coding, POS, the internet or any number of… Read more »
Ryan Mathews
Guest
6 years 9 months ago

Being aware of an out-of-stock situation may be great for the employee but it isn’t going to do much for the customer. Now, a mobile technology that prevents out-of-stocks…that’s useful.

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