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Vertical Focus

To Market

How wireless technologies are improving in-store efficiencies and driving sales.

When it came time to cover the vertical market of retail, we literally borrowed a page from the experts—our sister publication, RIS News. It’s the most influential retail technology publication, and we know you’ll find value in this article on the latest developments in mobile point-of-sale (POS) solutions. To read more from RIS News visit them online at
By Julie Ritzer Ross

Now that retailers have standardized on 802.11b as their WLAN technology of choice, many are leveraging their networks to incorporate applications that are designed to enhance the customer experience while bolstering efficiencies both in store and in the back office.

For some retailers, putting wireless technology into customers’ hands has become the name of the game. The Container Store, a growing Dallas, Texas–based retailer of storage and organization systems, with 37 stores across the nation, is now testing a concept it calls Go Shop! in its New York City locations. Customers register a credit card at the front counter and are given a Symbol Technologies 3050 rugged handheld; when they see an item they like, they scan it with the handheld and place it in their cart. Upon completing their shopping, shoppers simply return the device and their full shopping cart to the front counter. Transaction data is transmitted via Wi-Fi to the POS system, which tallies orders and executes transactions using credit card numbers on file. Orders are then delivered to shoppers’ doors, for a fee of $15.

John Thrailkill, The Container Store’s VP of stores, says the technology is yielding better than anticipated results. The company had originally projected that it would lead to between 300 and 500 orders per month. However, orders placed using Go Shop! have risen to 1,500 to 2,000 per month, leading the retailer to seriously consider moving forward with the concept.

Personal Shopping Assistants
Vendors anticipate that more applications like Go Shop! will be deployed as software is developed that makes it possible for shoppers to use consumer-oriented devices such as smartphones and BlackBerry devices for “wireless shopping.” The widespread availability of secure, scalable wireless infrastructures is also expected to drive the deployment of applications where handheld devices are offered to consumers as in-store personal shopping assistants.

In another new twist on leveraging wireless technology, six-unit grocery chain Ray’s Apple Market, in Clay Center, Kan., is expanding its use of StoreNext Retail Technologies’ PocketOffice applications, which come bundled with Fujitsu iPAD pocket-size handhelds. The retailer already utilizes the system’s Q-Buster line-busting module at the point-of-sale, shaving an average of three to four minutes off the time needed to complete each transaction, states Aaron Floersch, IT director. Ray’s also avails itself of a Grocery Dashboard module that allows store managers to access critical pricing and sales information.

“Our current goal is to make wireless technology a catalyst for boosting manager productivity and keeping transactions moving along at the front end,” Floersch reports. Accordingly, managers equipped with handheld devices running the Remote Manager Authorization module will soon be able to remotely receive and respond to cashiers’ requests for approval of voids and over-rides from anywhere in the store over a WLAN.

Traditional Apps Evolving
Not surprisingly, traditional in-store and back-office wireless applications also are evolving as a result of wireless technology standardization. At more than 5,400 stores operated by Woonsocket, R.I.–based CVS, store associates and managers use Symbol Technologies MC50 handheld devices with Spectrum24 radio communications capability and integrated bar code laser scanners to better serve customers on the sales floor.

If patrons need help locating an item or inquiring whether an empty shelf means the store is out of a product, associates can query the stores’ back-office host computers on the spot by scanning the appropriate shelf tag bar code. Bar code data is transmitted to the host over the Spectrum24 WLAN. A message indicating that inventory is available in the back room, en route from a supplier or in stock in a nearby store is immediately sent to the handheld via the same WLAN.

CVS managers also employ the MC50s to conduct inventory and sales analysis on the sales floor, enabling them to better oversee operations.

According to Vincent Minchillo, CVS’ VP of MIS, leveraging wireless technology in such a fashion has improved customer satisfaction; shoppers like the fact that they don’t have to wait for several minutes to find out whether the merchandise they wish to buy is actually available.

Another retailer utilizing wireless options is the French hypermarket chain Auchan. Auchan has enhanced item availability using a similar application centered on Intermec 720 handheld computers and a wireless interface to its hosted IT applications. Previously, stock clerks checked and recorded inventory using batch data collection terminals. Data was subsequently downloaded and used to generate new orders, a process that took about nine hours per day. Currently, clerks and store managers employ the handhelds to check inventory and recent orders, perform real-time order adjustments after checking sales activity and delivery schedules, and send order changes directly to the warehouse. Replenishment has reportedly become more responsive and accurate, and order entry time has been reduced to two hours. //

Julie Ritzer Ross is a freelance writer who specializes in business and technology.

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