Mobile goes strategic

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Retailers have been using hand held devices for routine stock taking, price checking and wastage monitoring for some time, but now they are extending their use to more strategic tasks, says Nigel Rix, commercial director for global information technology solutions and services company, Episys.

Nearly a year ago, in the Microsoft and Martec Mobility in Retail Survey 2005, research showed that more than 80 per cent of UK retailers considered mobile technology to be crucial to their business and are introducing mobile devices to their stores.

Then, more than 60 per cent of retailers were already using mobile technology for stock and price checking duties. Other popular uses include recording mark down pricing, checking warehouse availability and monitoring goods receiving and ordering.

Now, store managers are being equipped with hand helds for in-store tasks, including montoring product sell by and best before dates as well as checking promotions have been displayed on the shop floor. The devices will deliver information to the back-office store system.

This moves the use of mobile from a tactical to a strategic level, as retailers confidence in the technology and the applications grows. They also recognise that putting business intelligence in the hands of front line users can generate both cost savings and new revenue.

Beyond there, some retailers have pioneered mobile payments; UK general merchandise chain, Woolworths for instance uses mobile PoS terminals, a decision it made in 2004 in preference to putting in new fixed checkouts which can no longer handle a surge in store traffic.

This innovative system allows mobile store assistants using hand-held devices to perform complete transactions encompassing merchandise scanning, card payment and receipt printing. The Mobile EPoS application reduces queuing times by allowing a flexible number of service points dependent on store traffic.

Woolworths IT director, Tony Godwin has also identified new opportunities afforded by the introduction of Mobile POS, such as customer ordering terminals. I am challenging the business to think about a world beyond fixed tills, where space is freed up for more merchandise and where we can profitably handle seasonal traffic peaks. We want to set the future standard for retailing.

The costs are also very acceptable. Woolworths head of retail operations, Matt Jackson says: The cost of a mobile device is less than quarter of a new static till. And in independent research carried out by Nucleus Research, payback on the whole 824-store roll out will be only 1.6 years, less if the whole chain had been rolled out at the same time rather than in phases.

Some retailers are pioneering new mobile applications. One fashion retailer is looking to introduce a mobile solution for customers in department stores being able to pay at a mobile POS when they leave the changing room.

Mobile technology clearly has a bright future and a new generation of innovative vendors is emerging to develop its full potential.

Nigel Rix is commercial director for Episys Limited, a global information technology solutions and services company to the retail, manufacturing, logistics, chemical, healthcare and public service sector industries. Episys provides expertise, products, services and support for signage, labelling and mobile systems while keeping clients at the cutting edge of emerging technologies such as Chip & PIN, RFID and electronic signage.

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