Retailers Go Mobile

Untethering associates to improve store operations

Advancements in the use of mobile devices are leading to new customer-facing and backroom efficiencies. These include location-based services that increase safety and security, in-store process improvement and instant communication with coworkers. Untethered information and communication are creating better informed employees that enable retailers such as Food Lion and Best Buy to improve store operations and enhance customer service.

"Thought for food," is how Food Lion describes its Bloom concept store, designed to test new retailing technology and concepts. Food Lion, a subsidiary of Delhaize America, the U.S. division of Brussels-based Delhaize Group, recognizes that customer needs, expectations and behaviors are changing and becoming more diverse. It created the Bloom concept in an effort to adapt to these changes.

"Through store design, merchandising, a unique combination of technologies and select services, we want to offer hassle-free shopping solutions and a retail experience customers will appreciate," says Robert Canipe, Food Lion's vice president of business strategy.

To expedite and enhance the checkout experience, Bloom installed the Symbol Portable Shopping System, which allows customers to scan and bag items as they shop. Checkout then is just the process of paying. The system also allows the retailer to electronically send messages to customers while in the store.
At one Bloom store, for example, shoppers can drop off pharmacy orders and receive a message on their scanner notifying them that the order is ready for pick-up.
To monitor and manage store conditions Bloom stores use WalkAbout mobile Hammerhead computers with wireless data communications. Replacing desktop computers, the tablet PCs allow store and department managers mobility, while maintaining operating efficiencies with data synchronization and full network access.

Bloom managers now have real-time access to all pertinent data such as work orders, status updates and scheduled projects. In addition, managers can complete data collection and update data directly from any location within the store.

Multi-Function Mobility
The New Hampshire State Liquor Commission (NHSLC) regulates the sale of alcohol in New Hampshire and is an important source of revenue for the state, contributing more than $100 million to the state's general fund each year.

In an effort to modernize the state's liquor inventory program, NHSLC selected a mobile platform, including a digital imager that would scan digital images in addition to bar codes. The retailer uses Hand Held Products' Dolphin 9500 mobile computers for taking in-store inventory and to track more than 36 million bottles of alcohol annually at 74 stores state-wide. "We've reduced inventory process time by 50 percent while improving accuracy during the inventory process," says Howard Roundy, director of IT for NHSLC.

The 220 handheld units replaced the commission's laser scanners with Adaptus Imaging Technology, which provides advanced reading and image capture capabilities. This enables the retailer to digitally record all arriving shipments of alcohol. The NHSLC uses the devices for quarterly inventories at every store.

Employees also use the handheld devices for weekly spot inspections as well as confirming proper construction of store displays with advertisers.
"By utilizing digital imaging, we have the luxury to track packages with damage and document broken and damaged goods with photos, tasks that would have been impossible with laser scanning," adds Roundy.

The retailer is piloting load-receiving, a process in which it will barcode the labels coming out of the warehouse and scan the cases coming into the store. NHSLC is also writing a program that can be used to scan the 3-D barcodes on the back of drivers' licenses to validate the licenses and to prevent underage liquor purchases.

Future plans may also include using the handheld devices as mobile POS. "Since the devices work on a similar Windows platform as our thin-client POS, we are looking to eventually connect the POS to the handhelds to use as lane busters," concludes Roundy.

Real-Time Collaboration
In an effort to increase workforce productivity, Best Buy deployed wireless networks across its corporate campus and in its more than 640 retail stores.
For the campus-wide network, the retailer installed more than 1,000 Cisco Aironet 1200 Series Access Points to create a wireless infrastructure that provides network access to HP notebooks and tablet PCs. Best Buy has also deployed four access points in each retail store to provide wireless access to its local store functions. To maximize the security of its corporate resources, the retailer uses Wi-Fi protected access encryption and EAP-TLS.

Best Buy's workforce can now respond quickly from anywhere on its campus and in its retail stores across the United States."Wireless technology has helped us transform into a more efficient, customer-centric business," says Bob Willett, Best Buy's executive vice president of operations. "It enables a dynamic working environment that improves employee productivity and agility."

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