In the last several weeks, I've been talking to a lot of mobile POS developers. I met up with more than a dozen of them in January at the National Retail Federation (NRF) annual conference (a.k.a. Retail's Big Show) in New York (where many of them were displaying Socket barcode scanners in their booth with their POS applications!). I also spoke with many at MacWorld / iWorld in San Francisco, where numerous tablet solutions for the iPad and iPad mini were exhibited this year.While I reviewed and tried to understand the different developers' software applications, it became clear that there are three primary usage scenarios in mobile POS deployments:
- Mobile only — Tablets or other mobile devices are only used "in aisle," i.e., carried by sales associates throughout the establishment wherever they interact with customers.
- Stationary only — Tablets are used only at fixed locations.
- Both Mobile and Stationary — Tablets are used both in aisle and at fixed stations.
Which usage scenario retailers deploy depends on a variety of factors, including:
- How many devices will be used?
- What type of mobile experience is right for the retail establishment and its ambiance?
- Does the retailer want to allow devices to be removed from a secure stand?
- Does the retailer want credit card transactions to occur anywhere on the shop floor?
- How important is PCI compliance for secure transactions?
- What level of service does the retailer want to provide while closing a sale? Do goods need to bagged or gift-wrapped at a checkout station?
- Will the mobile devices primarily be used for cash register replacement, or does the retailer want to also use them for product lookup, upselling, customer loyalty programs, etc.?
- Will the devices be used at a temporary location where all the equipment and supplies need to be brought in for the day and later packed up and removed?
Mobile-only deployments often occur at outdoor kiosks, farmers' markets, and sidewalk sales where smaller, one-handed solutions are preferred, e.g., an iPhone or iPod touch with a credit card swipe and barcode reader physically attached to the device. In these environments, customers typically purchase few items, don't expect special bagging or gift wrap, and rarely require extra sales assistance because merchandise is readily displayed and available.
Within a store, mobile-only tablet POS deployments often are found at small retailers, where credit card transactions are encouraged immediately at the site of product selection. Using a tablet enables sales associates to easily look up targeted product information — ranging from inventory availability and recommended accessories to multimedia product demonstrations — thereby providing a rich, personalized, interactive experience for the customer.
Conversely, stationary-only mobile POS deployments are primarily for cash register replacement and are typically tablet-based. Many small retailers prefer the stationary-only usage scenario because they don't want to allow sales associates to remove tablets from their stands, and their goal is to upgrade to a "smart" cash register system that provides new features such as sales tracking and tools for loyalty and marketing campaigns that traditional cash registers don't provide.
Lastly, deployments that combine both mobile and stationary use of devices typically occur in department stores, clothing chains, specialty retailers and other large resellers where tablets are preferred and purchases need to be bagged or gift wrapped at a checkout station. Tablets are divided between multiple sales associates, with some using tablets to offer customers product information and recommendations on the shop floor, and others using tablets mounted at checkout stations to process credit card transactions.At NRF, I saw Socket Mobile barcode scanners being integrated into tablet POS solutions for all three scenarios. For mobile usage, our scanners are small enough to fit in a pocket or can be worn around the neck with a lanyard. For stationary usage, our scanners can be kept in a charging cradle, and we've also partnered with a variety of tablet stand and tablet mount manufacturers who specialize in retail POS.
People were really excited at NRF this year! It was great to witness a monumental shift in the industry, with retailers moving away from traditional POS systems and adopting the next generation of customer-centric, mobile solutions. At Socket Mobile, this is manifesting in strong momentum in our Developer Program, which now includes more than 100 developers who specialize in mobile retail applications. We're very excited to be part of this historic technology shift in retail, and look forward to seeing mobile POS really take off in the next several years.