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Retail Touch Points || The Road To “Clicks and Mortar: How Retailers Can Best Deploy Mobile Point Of Sale Technologies

Written by  Paul Ybarra, Tangoe Inc.
Imagine walking into a grocery store, choosing items from the shelves and placing them in your cart or bag, and walking right out when finished. Is something missing in this fantasy? Right — there was no waiting in long lines, no scanning items at the register, no paying the cashier. At the Amazon Go grocery store in Seattle, that fantasy is a reality.
Using a combination of sensor technology, machine learning and computer vision,1 Amazon Go eliminates the need to wait in line to pay, instead allowing shoppers to scan their smartphones when they enter the store, and charging their Amazon accounts after they leave. The result is a new “clicks and mortar” format — combining the technologies used when shopping Amazon online with a convenient, physical location.

What’s next for the mobile point of sale? While we don’t have a crystal ball, we do anticipate tablets playing a larger and larger role in retail interactions with customers in the future.  Those interactions could have many forms, from a tablet used to check out from any location in the store, eliminating waiting in checkout lines to pay, to a tablet at a kiosk allowing customers to look up store reward program details, store maps or special offers.

Retailers are sure to gain steam in adopting mobile payment options in the near future. On the heels of Amazon Go are plans that Target intends to launch a mobile payment system integrated into a store app later this year,2 and rivals Walmart and Kohl’s have already incorporated similar offerings in their respective store apps. On top of this is the growing list of retailers accepting Apple Pay, Android Pay, Google Wallet and PayPal at checkout. As the demand for mobile payments grows, retailers must ensure that they are deploying the technology properly.

To do that, a company’s IT Mobile Compute team needs to be part of the discussion as early as possible.From our experience, many retailers take a “fire, ready, aim” approach when it comes to deploying tablets and new mobile applications to their retail locations. What often tends to happen is the retailers’ marketing team will devise a customer experience-enhancing application, and sell the concept internally, expecting the IT Mobile Compute team to then be able to simply roll the project out.

It’s not quite that simple. It is crucial to have the IT Mobile Compute team present from day one of development to help identify key logistical details, software and operating system requirements, requirements for different devices, employee training and support processes and a deployment model. Without IT Mobile Compute representatives as a part of the process from its beginning, deployment to the actual store will hit many unexpected delays. Furthermore, retailers should admit if they do not have the in-house subject matter expertise and leverage a managed mobility company during the planning session to identify and avoid deployment pitfalls.

If deployed correctly, leveraging tablets and other mobile technology can increase customer satisfaction and lower a retailer’s labor rate, by making information available to the customer via technology versus relying on individuals to disseminate the information. But as we’ve covered, there are a variety of factors at play to ensure correct deployment. In addition to the early inclusion of an IT Mobile Compute Team, retailers will need to manage multiple areas of a mobile device lifecycle once the product is deployed.

The stages of that lifecycle include:

  • Ordering the device
  • Loading of custom applications
  • Putting a protective case on the device
  • Including custom instructions
  • Assigning the device to a specific store employee during setup
  • Live troubleshooting when the device is not working correctly
  • Verifying carrier billing is accurate
  • Tracking the device inventory information
  • Having a process in place for if/when the device is stolen or lost
  • Replacing the device
  • Fixing broken screens, buttons and display
  • What to do with the device at the end of its life, including removing sensitive company data and disposing of it in an environmentally responsible manner

Again, retailers can either build that expertise in-house, or leverage a full lifecycle MMS company if the internal expertise does not exist.

Finally, once a retailer has completed deployment, they cannot overlook cost and security. To ensure they are receiving the most competitive rates from carriers, retailers can create single accounts with each carrier, rather than leveraging just one. This allows for devices in use in diverse locations across the globe, and ensures the retailer is leveraging its entire spend. Utilizing companies that specialize in global carrier contract negotiation is a fast path to get the best rates from mobile carriers.

In an age of increasingly regular data breaches and hacks, taking every step to keep mobile POS devices secure is a must. Leveraging EMM Software is not only a good idea, but a must in order to protect the sensitive data and limit exposure.

Even with the multitude of factors to consider, at Tangoe we are seeing regional and mid-size retailers around the world being the most agile in deploying customer-facing mobile technology. Furthermore, from 2015 to 2016 we saw a tenfold increase in mobile device logistics projects from our customer base. This is almost certainly driven by companies starting to implement mobile device initiatives that were started in 2015. Now, with the much-publicized “Amazon Go” launch, we expect all retailers to expedite mobile technology deployments into the express line.

Paul Ybarra is Senior Vice President at Tangoe Inc. with responsibility for Global Mobility. He has more than 20 years of management experience and 15-plus years of success in the telecom expense and global mobile management industry.

1Amazon, “Amazon Go.”

2Star Tribune, “Target will roll out a mobile payment system later this year.” 24 January 2017.