IT Reseller - Interview with Leonardo Borgini Zebra ET40/ET45 Tablets in Retail

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The future of retail in the next five years will most likely be characterised by a combination of brick-and-mortar and online retail. Many end customers use both channels for their purchases and this trend will continue.

According to a study by Zebra last year (i.e.: Global Retail Shopper Report 2022 [connect.zebra.com]), almost three-quarters of retailers in the DACH and CEE region are convinced that a hybrid of online and offline retail will establish itself in the future. The majority of these retailers see the need to adapt their business model to meet the needs of their customers. An important factor here is the provision and use of mobile technologies for retail employees.

Axel Schmidt, Chief Sales & Marketing Officer of Jarltech, one of Europe’s largest distributors for Auto-ID and POS talked about it with Leonardo Borgini. Mr. Borgini works for Zebra Technologies as Regional Product Manager Enterprise Mobile Computing and has an excellent understanding of the market and knows about the needs of retailers.

Axel Schmidt: Mr. Borgini, retail is changing. From Zebra’s perspective, what difficulties do retailers face when it comes to integrating new, mobile technologies?

Leonardo Borgini: The integration of new mobile technologies is indeed one of the key challenges in today’s retail. According to our latest surveys held across 13 leading countries worldwide, more than 80% of the retail decision makers we have interviewed plans to increase tech investments in the next 3 years. The key point here is that, after the tremendous growth in e-commerce during the last years, today’s shoppers expect a seamless shopping experience, embracing what we call “unified/blended channel services”, where they can decide at the very last minute to go online or in-store based on the 3 key criteria: availability, selection and price of their target items. 

Among the retailers we have surveyed, four out of five are investing to increase the speed and convenience of fulfilment options, so as to provide any customer with the most appropriate fulfilment pattern: whether it be click&collect, ship-to-home, curbside pick-up or again BOPIS. Of course, supporting multiple fulfilment options means more work and more investments for the retailers, with increased logistics for picking, delivering, and handling returns.

In particular, investing to improve inventory management (real time visibility, out of stocks, fraud control) is quite unanimously reported as one of the top priorities for today’s retail technology: where the key point here is not just about “having the correct and most up-to-date information available”, but it is also about “making sure that the most up-to-date information is visible to the appropriate stakeholders”. For example, empowering retail associates is reported to be one of the key concerns today: two out of three of the retail associates we have surveyed feel that shoppers could be connected to the product information more than they are. Providing retail associates with those technological tools that can help them work is really perceived as a key need today.

Axel Schmidt: Zebra has been offering the ET40/ET45 enterprise tablets to retailers since late 2022. What features do the Zebra ET40/ET45 tablets offer employees in price-sensitive retail? What advantages do you see for a retailer to equip their shop employees with a Zebra ET40/ET45 tablet instead of relying on a traditional consumer tablet?

Leonardo Borgini: The enterprise-grade ET4x series is a general-purpose set of rugged tablets ideal for a wide range of use cases. The ET40 name identifies the configuration with Wi-Fi connectivity, while the ET45 model is offered with full connectivity, including 5G and Wi-Fi support. All models come with an integrated barcode scanner and are offered in 2 different display sizes: 8 inches or 10 inches. The offer of these 2 different display sizes and of the different connectivity options makes the ET40/ET45 as a flexible device for a myriad of retail use cases. For example, an 8" tablet with 5G connectivity can be the perfect solution for delivery drivers and fulfilment personnel in transportation and logistics, while in-store retail associates can privilege a Wi-Fi 8" tablet with easier portability for frequent price and inventory checking, or rather a Wi-Fi 10" tablet with its bigger display for assisted selling and line busting tasks. This goes in the direction of empowering sales associates with the appropriate technological tool, with the ultimate goal to offer customers the seamless shopping experience we have mentioned a few minutes ago. 

Needless to say, we are talking of a rugged device: despite their light weight and their slim design, the ET40 and the ET45 tablets can withstand drops on concrete from 1.2 meters, and even from 1.5 meters if they are equipped with the dedicated rugged boot that we have developed. The robustness of the device against drops, tumbles and shocks is a key element in order to reduce the total cost of ownership over the expected lifecycle of the retailer’s investment. 

On top of this, and unlike consumer tablets, Zebra guarantees that the ET4x series will be available for purchase for up to three years, eliminating mixed device deployments that are more time-consuming and costly for IT departments to support. With Zebra’s optional OneCare Maintenance Plans, businesses can also rely on service and support for their ET40 and ET45 tablets for up to six years, helping front-line workers to continue to perform at peak levels while also reducing device vulnerabilities, unbudgeted repair expenses, and unexpected disruptions.

Last, the ET4x series of tablets offer the Zebra Mobility DNA software tools to optimize workflows, and to improve usability for mobile workers. These tools include Mobility Extensions (which adds powerful enterprise-class security and manageability features to the standard Android ecosystem) and StageNow, which allows businesses to stage a handful or thousands of devices in seconds. 

Axel Schmidt: What technical requirements do retailers need to use the Zebra ET40/ET45? 

Leonardo Borgini: The only real requirement here is to support the Android platform. ET40 and ET45 have been launched with Android 11, they will be ready for Android 13 later this year and will support one further Android dessert along its full 3-year lifecycle. Retailers just need to make sure their IT platform and their applications have been developed and tested to run on these operating systems.

Axel Schmidt: Is training necessary to use all the features of the tablets? What about the learning curve for the Zebra ET40/ET45 tablets?

Leonardo Borgini: In terms of user training, we are talking here of a rugged tablet which looks exactly like one of the consumer devices everybody uses in its everyday life. The only visible difference from consumer-like devices is the presence of an embedded barcode scanner, which can be activated as easily as pressing a button. Therefore, usage is fully intuitive and follows the patterns that everybody adopts when using his/her own personal smartphone or tablet.

Axel Schmidt: In your view, why are the Zebra ET40/ET45 enterprise tablets ideal for addressing the challenges of omni-channel retail to effectively translate an online experience into the shop? 

Leonardo Borgini: I do believe that the use of tablets in a retail store should be a natural extension of the customers’ purchase journey. A few minutes ago, we referenced how today’s shoppers embrace a “hybrid” or “unified” commerce model more and more, and we suggested equipping store associates with “assisted selling” tools that enable them to quickly check inventory in stockrooms, other stores and even warehouses for desired items. Even if the outcome of this “assisted selling” is directing the customer online to purchase an item, we’re still fulfilling their order from our retailer inventory versus a competitor, and we are finding a solution to solve his or her problem.

The ET40 tablets are ideal tools for such a purpose, not only thanks to the ergonomics optimised for portability in assisted sales and the embedded scanner we have mentioned so far, but also thanks to the offer of accessories we have developed. Accessories include hand straps for easier portability, auxiliary batteries with easy swapping in order to use the same tablet over an extended time shift, single and multi-station cradles to conveniently recharge the tablets in the store, and even intelligent cabinets to lock and unlock the devices from their charging stations. Further dedicated accessories allow our store associates to dock the ET40 tablet and to use it as a desktop computer, for example connecting it to an external keyboard or monitor, so as to enable the associates to also run the administrative tasks that can be necessary to finalise and order or to fill a document.

But, as I have already mentioned, assisted selling is just one of the multiple use cases for which the ET40 tablet has been designed. For example, for most shoppers, the process of using a touch screen kiosk for exploration or purchase can be a relevant asset in retail stores. This kiosk experience is intended to leverage the typical experience that customers can have online through in-shop tools. Kiosks offer the flexibility of both self-service and assisted selling experiences. And once again, among the accessories of the ET40 10" tablets, there are few ones that are intended to be installed as presentation stands or as wall stands for the end users. 

Last, we need to mention that one of the natural evolutions of tablets for assisted sales can be a larger deployment of Mobile POS stations, where every employee equipped with a tablet can leverage it as a POS device to speed up the customer checkout experience. For example, an item ordered online can also be paid in-store thanks to a Mobile POS station equipped with an ET40 tablet and its dedicated payment interface. For our ET40/ET45 8" tablets, we have developed dedicated POS accessories, enabling the tablet to act as a cash register through a payment terminal on the back. 

Overall, the full accessory ecosystem of the ET40 has been developed with a special attention to offering effective tools to boost the customer journey in specific vertical markets – and this is true not only for retail in our example, but also for healthcare, transportation and logistics and hospitality. 

Axel Schmidt: Thank you! 

Find out more about Jarltech here: www.jarltech.com

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