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Mobile Drives an Agile Workforce

New in-store technologies, including mobile apps and branded Wi-Fi, are assisting retail staff and creating operational efficiencies.

​By Fiona Briggs

While much of the focus on the latest retail technologies — in-store Wi-Fi and mobile apps — has been customer-based, forward-thinking retailers are thinking “inside the box” and harnessing the solutions to benefit their staff and businesses.

While mobile provides an immediate way for business to reach and engage with customers, providing promotions and offers in order to build loyalty, it can also be used to create workforce mobility depending on how the technology and devices are deployed.

Tesco: Augmented Reality
Tesco has partnered with scientists at IBM’s research lab in Israel to develop an augmented reality mobile shopping app geared toward organizing products on store shelves, according to display plans, to create a better shopping experience for customers.

The app — designed for use on Tesco’s own tablet hudl, and on other tablets and smartphones — photographs and captures the current status of a store’s aisles, including the quantity and location of products. The app then connects to Tesco’s product database to analyze and identify the images. It compares the current display with the planned arrangement and immediately superimposes information that reveals insufficient quantities, missing products or misplaced items.

“Delivering a better shopping experience to our customers includes making sure products are well stocked and easy to find,” said Mike McNamara, CIO of Tesco. “The IBM application will help us to improve store operations beyond the current manual processes and barcode-based methods.”

Typically, Tesco colleagues have to check products on every shelf against a physical plan and manually log inventory levels, but a smart solution that digitizes and automates the process will help Tesco improve both its operations and the consumer shopping experience. For example, products incorrectly placed or lying flat instead of facing the aisle can frustrate consumers who can’t find what they’re looking for. The app detects these problems and generates an alert on the mobile device with instructions for the corrective action required.

“This collaboration with Tesco shows how mobile technology can be used to create a smarter, more convenient experience for consumers and retailers,” said Sima Nadler, retail research lead at IBM Research. “It also demonstrates today’s most compelling advances in mobile technology result from how the devices are used, rather than the devices themselves. By using mobile to maximize inventory and sales, enterprises can stay ahead of the competition.”

Asda: iPad Mobilitysda: iPad Mobility
Walmart-owned Asda has teamed up with the mobile network operator and Internet service provider company, EE, to introduce Asda-branded in-store Wi-Fi that has already attracted more than 100,000 customers and 800,000 subscribers. While the managed service uses mobile connectivity to provide store specific offers and promotional content to consumers, store staff are benefiting too.

Seven hundred iPads allow store managers and regional managers to handle administrative work quickly and easily anywhere on the store floor. Internal Asda apps such as HR utilities and store planning tools are delivered over Wi-Fi direct to the manager iPads.

According to EE, managers can spend an additional seven hours on the store floor each week coaching and motivating colleagues and looking after customers — rather than sitting at desks filling out forms. Small things like spot-checking stock levels and making sure people are available to serve customers are an additional benefit

Hughes Europe: Wi-Fi
Satellite broadband provider, Hughes Europe, has launched a secure, managed Wi-Fi service for retailers. The social analytics feature enables customers to access the Internet via their social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or Google+) and allows a retailer to maintain a relationship with customers after they’ve left the store. Triggered e-vouchers can be sent automatically to reward loyal returning customers or to entice the infrequent shopper. In addition, advertising links can be quickly established to launch new products or increase popularity.

As well as supporting a retailer’s marketing efforts, the service enables store staff to be mobile and use tablets for stock control. “For employees, in-store Wi-Fi gives them shop-floor access to the latest product descriptions and pricing,” said Chris O’Dell, vice president of sales and marketing, adding, “Online training and the availability of smart devices also ensures they have all the product information immediately on hand that they need to enhance the customer experience.”

The ability to track and monitor shoppers is another win and allows the retailer to focus on getting the right products in the right place to the right customer, continued O’Dell. “Business intelligence reduces costs through better stock management and increases sales through a stronger focus on meeting the customer’s needs.”

Retailers are proving the latest technology solutions can benefit and assist store-based teams, enabling them to better serve their customers as a result.

Fiona Briggs is a retail business journalist. She can be reached at fionalbriggs@gmail.com.