NRF: Time for Supermarkets to Let Go?
One of the big themes at NRF this
year was “mobile”, specifically
consumer mobile. Smart phone apps were everywhere, those offering consumers
all sorts of real-time information. But behind all the glamorous devices and
sexy apps sits the infrastructure of wireless technology that is currently
rolling out its fourth generation of hardware. This 4G infrastructure will
give wireless network users a broadband experience without requiring a physical
attachment to the network (even though “broadband experience” is
left to interpretation because the speed is still less than one tenth of cable).
access has been the last hurdle preventing many retailers from moving critical
in-store processes to network based applications. Supermarket retailers have
moved applications such as backdoor receiving from an in-store processor to
the network, but they have not moved critical front-end applications. Maybe
it’s finally time for supermarkets to consider moving their front-end apps
out of the store.
Every supermarket CIO has been through the experience of a “down
vision of customers in line, abandoned shopping carts of frozen food and totally
demoralized store personnel is what keeps their store systems managers up at
night, and they are certainly not comforted by the thought that the integrity
of their front-end operations depends on a thin wire running underground.
maybe 4G will be the answer. There are many devices available today that monitor
the wired connection and “seamlessly” transfer over to a
wireless alternative. We already rely on the network for electronic payment
and benefit transactions. Centralized POS discounts are also becoming common.
With the high speed wireless backup provided by 4G, maybe it is time to get
all the front-end apps out of the store.
Before anyone throws away their in-store
POS hardware, there are issues that still need to be considered. Even though
4G will be fast, it is still significantly slower than a wired connection.
Don’t forget the impact of 9/11 when cell phone service in lower Manhattan
became inaccessible because of everyone trying to replace their wired connections
at once during an emergency. Special POS systems that support a local cache
of “master data” — such as item descriptors,
plan-o-grams, image files, etc. — may be necessary to minimize network traffic.
POS terminals, where you attach peripherals, such as cash drawers or printers,
still need the driver software updates and other maintenance associated with
the peripherals. While centralizing an application reduces the technical issues
associated with upgrades, they require greater quality assurance and training
considerations. Each upgrade will have the potential of impacting all stores
in a chain and the people in the store have to be prepared ahead of time for
the application changes.
Do you think retailers can let go of their critical in-store applications by moving them to the network? Does 4G back-up make it feasible? What other constraints still exist? Is security a major concern?