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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Wireless Applications - The new future in Retail

Technology has been an area of intense focus in retail industries as a way to accomplish both goals. Improvements have been made in areas such as supply chain management, inventory management, customer experience, and loss prevention. Today, a new wave of opportunity exists for retail industries to improve margins through the use of wireless technology. Wireless technology, permitting communication between people and devices anywhere and without cables, has enabled the dramatic transformation of business processes in the past, and continues to do so. Wireless technology has a number of innovative uses in retail that can improve operational processes, improve the customer buying experience, give better visibility for management into store operations, and ultimately improve the bottom line.

Some of the innovations in Wireless that can help Retail immensely are
 
1. Mobile POS - Point of Sale
  a - Fully mobile point-of-sale stations can be set up using handheld computers, scanners, and printers with integrated credit card readers. During high-volume sales periods, salespeople outfitted with these mobile POS terminals can be positioned throughout a store at small tables.
 
b - Mobile “line busting” personnel can move through checkout lines with handheld computers to accelerate the checkout process. merchandise can be scanned with a barcode scanner and a ticket printed with prices and a master barcode on it. While waiting in line, the customer has the chance to review prices printed on the ticket. Upon reaching the checkout counter, the ticket is scanned, the total amount is recalled from a backend system, and the transaction is completed without the checkout clerk needing to process each item individually.

c -Traditional cash registers and desktop scanners can also be attached to backend systems via wireless LAN. This benefits retailers with both reduced cabling costs and increased flexibility in store reconfiguration. With wireless-connected equipment, checkout stations can be moved anywhere without a need to hire cabling contractors to run new network cabling.

Inventory Management
a - In the shipping and receiving area, wireless technology can be used in the form of handheld barcode scanners and entry terminals linked to back-end systems over wireless LAN. Items can be received into inventory with the warehouse location of the items tracked instantly. Many retailers use DEX/UCS (Direct Exchange/Uniform Communication Standard) to allow delivery drivers to directly input invoices into a store’s accounting system, simplifying billing and accounting.

b - Store associates using wireless-enabled handheld computers can easily and quickly perform inventory management tasks.For example, handheld computers with integrated barcode scanners can be used during restocking periods to instantly track how much product is on the floor and how much was moved to the floor from the back room. When merchandise is available in the warehouse or back room but is out of stock on the main floor, store associates can easily use wireless terminals to view the location of merchandise. With the addition of wireless printers, price updates can also be performed on the spot.

Customer Service
a - Technology is a relatively inexpensive way to improve customer service. Besides long checkout lines, two of the largest sources of customer complaints in retail establishments involve pricing problems and a lack of available store associates to help locate merchandise or answer questions. Wireless technology can help on both fronts, without requiring a retailer to hire additional staff. First, price verification kiosks have become very popular with retailers and tech-savvy customers. Promotional sales, mislabeled merchandise, missing shelf price tags, and returned merchandise can make determining an accurate price difficult for customers. If a price verification kiosk is nearby, customers can take the merchandise, scan the barcode tag, and quickly determine the actual price. If a printer is attached to the kiosk, customers can print their own advisory price tags as well.

b - Another area where wireless can improve the customer experience is in obtaining assistance with merchandise or other questions. Self-help kiosks can be easily placed around a store giving customers touch-screen access to store directories, inventory information for all nearby stores in a chain, current sales, and product information. Some retailers have augmented these self-help kiosks with a “get help” button. When pressed, the system alerts nearby store associates carrying Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) that are voice-enabled. A store associate may respond either by voice or through pre-defined text messages. Such kiosks often can let customers find their own answers to questions, and eliminate the need for a customer to walk around the store trying to locate associates.

Wireless Voice Communication
Many retailers use two-way radios or walkie-talkies for voice communication between store associates. A wireless LAN can enable secure voice communication that is free from interference, operates in unlicensed spectrum, and is encrypted to prevent eavesdropping. Voice devices can include purposebuilt walkie-talkies, but today are more commonly based on converged devices such as PDAs with integrated retail features like barcode scanners. Popular application software and devices are available today that give a store associate access to store inventory, point of sale, voice communication, instant messaging, and even external data such as inventory at other stores in the region. Voice communication can be “broadcast”, where all employees hear the same thing, or “unicast” where a conversation happens between two employees. Group communication, or “multicast”, is also available which can be used to let groups of managers communicate only amongst each other.

Price Changes and Price Auditing
One retailer conducted a study of the time required to process price changes and shelf labeling. This retailer averaged 800 weekly price changes, and required a 14-person team working a six-hour night shift to process all changes. Much of the time was wasted making trips to and from the printer to retrieve items such as shelf price labels and promotional flags. Other time was spent verifying price changes against large printouts and re-verifying with managers when discrepancies were found. This is time that can be saved using mobile terminals and printers connected via wireless LAN. After implementing a wireless LAN with handheld computers and printers to process price changes, the retailer was able to eliminate an entire shift. Instead, a team of six people process all price changes in the hour before the store opens. Mid-day price changes are also enabled, since an employee with a mobile terminal can print a new shelf label, place it, and update the store’s server instantaneously.

Price auditing can be equally time-consuming. With wireless handheld computers, a store associate can walk aisles scanning shelf labels with a barcode scanner. The handheld computer initiates a price lookup in the store’s UPC database – the same database linked to point-of-sale terminals that determine the price charged to customers. If a discrepancy is found between the price on the shelf and the price in the database, the store associate can immediately print a new shelf label to correct the discrepancy. Accurate pricing protects the retailer’s profits when a pricing error favors the customer. It also helps reduce the time associates must spend checking prices at checkout, and increases customer loyalty.

RFID
RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) has received a huge amount of attention in recent years, with many predicting that the technology will revolutionize everything from logistics to inventory processing to the customer experience. While time will tell if these predictions hold up, the use of wireless technology to track objects is certainly promising.

Guest Internet Access
A large number of retailers now offer guest Internet access, either free or paid, as an enticement to keep customers in the store longer. This is particularly popular in bookstores with in-store cafes and in other food service establishments. The primary challenge in providing guest Internet access is to prevent guest usage from impacting store operations.

Wireless Video
An emerging application in retail is the use of wireless LANs to connect LCD (liquid crystal display) television monitors to a central server for in-store video programming. Some systems embed a small Windows PC and hard drive in the monitor, and programming content is streamed to the PC and stored on the hard drive for local playback. Other systems connect the video display directly to a central server where all content is controlled. The use of wireless LAN technology allows these screens to be placed anywhere it is convenient and will be seen by store patrons.

Source: ArubaNetworks

Cheers,
Arroon

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