In-Store Mobility - iPad Or Rugged?
By Bob Johns, associate editor
I recently made several purchases in a store where I was helped by a very knowledgeable associate using an iPad. Upon completing the transaction, unfortunately for the employee, he knocked the device off of the counter to the tile floor. Even though the device had a protective cover, the device’s screen still suffered a crack in the corner. This got me thinking about the harsh environments that retail devices must endure, and how rugged the devices need to be.
Obviously this was an isolated incident, but many of the devices being implemented in retail today were originally designed to be consumer grade, not enterprise grade. This can be a major concern as retailers try to be more customer-centric and keep the associate engaged with the customer. I recently reached out to Sheldon Safir, director of product marketing for Motorola Solutions, to see how Motorola approaches retail products.
One of the first things Safir points out is that it is not just the physical aspect of mobility that retailers need to be concerned with, but also the data security. “Devices need to be built from the ground up to be rugged and specifically designed for retail implementation,” Safir noted. Enterprise–level devices are used for entire days at a time. This requires that they be able to handle bumps and drops, temperature variances dependent on location, and be able to hot-swap batteries without powering down. Additionally, the devices need to support a wide array of peripherals for use in multiple retail environments. Do you need a barcode or 2-D scanner? Do you need to be able to swipe a credit card? Does it need to have a camera? Does it need Bluetooth communications? These are all questions retailers need to ask before they make any tablet or mobile solution decision.
An additional aspect of concern for mobile devices is security. First, the device itself needs to have controls in place to restrict access to applications and data. Second, the device must be secure from hackers or outside access. Third, the device must be able to lock down or destroy all data if it is stolen.
One way data can be protected is to not store any information on the device itself. By utilizing remote servers or cloud applications, data can be tokenized or exist in strictly a pass-through platform. All data, and therefore its security, would be handled remotely in-house or by a third-party vendor. Using high-level data encryption keys and restricting access to LAN-only systems can add another level of security.
Control applications that verify user information can restrict access based on a retailer’s preference and assign access levels to associates, managers, and even customer interactions. The access can be restricted at any time in the event there is a breach, an employee is let go, or the device leaves the store.
I had the privilege of demoing devices from companies such as Motorola, HP, and Apple, and it appears the manufacturers are beginning to understand the retailers’ needs for rugged devices that can be used to enhance the customer experience as well as handle back-end operations. On a visit to Best Buy, an associate was able to show me a product demo on an iPad she had with her on the floor. The demo ran crisply and offered valuable information on the product. This iPad was in what she described as a “Gorilla” case that protected it well. So, retailers are going to have a difficult choice to make when choosing mobile options. There is going to be a lot of competition to offer the best product to the retailer as they ramp up the customer engagement focus, so retailers need to make sure the product they choose meets all of their needs.