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Retail mobility on the horizon

Five trends to watch in 2015

Mobility is changing every aspect of retail, from the corporate office to the field; from warehouse operations to customer engagement. According to RIS News, most large chain retailers now rely on wireless devices, with an average fleet of 60 per store that includes smartphones, tablets, rugged devices and peripherals.

By harnessing the power of mobility in stores, retailers can create a customer experience that is as information-rich as online shopping, but with all the benefits of brick and mortar – the social interaction, customer service and the opportunity to see, touch, try on and test. The result is an experience that is far more valuable than either online or in-store shopping alone. In turn, retailers will be rewarded with a wealth of data that is collected during digital customer interactions.

Mobility in the retail industry is sure to play a stronger role in 2015, and more retailers than ever will be deploying devices for the storefront in an array of applications. The following five mobile trends are enabling pioneering retailers to create customized experiences that build brand loyalty, combat showrooming and drive brick-and-mortar sales.

1. Pop-up Retail

Today many stores exist only online, a trend which some feared signaled the decline of brick-and-mortar. But pop-up shops are proving otherwise. Many successful online-only retailers are opening temporary physical storefronts – or pop-ups – to establish connections with their customers. In fact, according to Forbes, short-term retail is now an $8 billion industry. Short-term leases are enabling retailers to take advantage of temporary conditions, such as seasonal sales or the location of a particular customer base.

Pop-up retailers rely on a variety of mobile technologies. By simplifying payment, access to offsite inventory and connection with headquarters, mobile devices are making pop-ups possible for a wider variety of retailers. Mobile devices are also used for Store associates can power on a mobile device to instantly access inventory, order more of a sold-out product, and check out customers without a register.

The pop-up shop model also attracts the kinds of customers who expect to see mobile technology used in stores. By necessity and by their temporary nature, pop-ups are raising the bar for how mobile technology is used to enhance a retailer’s operations.

2. Customer-facing technologies

In the new year, customer-facing technologies are likely to play a larger role in retail operations. Some customer-facing technologies, such as mobile point of sale (mPOS) have already been implemented and will continue to expand in scope and across more retail locations.

According to a report published by the U.S. Federal Reserve, 2013 mPOS purchases tripled those made in the previous year, indicating that the days of the cash register are dwindling. As more retailers adopt mobile checkout models, they will begin to see the benefits of quicker checkouts and shorter lines for customers that mPOS facilitate. Mobile payment will also redefine the retail experience for shoppers as Apple Pay and Google Wallet become more acceptable methods of payment.

Other emerging customer-facing technologies are gaining traction, including self-checkout at mobile kiosks and digital displays. Mobile apps are helping retail associates stay prepared with real-time information on inventory, product details and sales scripts, all of which can help secure customers and increase sales.

3. Beacons, Geolocation and Proximity Targeting

Beacon technology is predicted to make more appearances in the retail arena in the coming years. In 2013, Apple introduced iBeacons and activated the technology across its retail stores. Other forward-thinking retailers followed suit in 2014. Beacons enable more granular location awareness that GPS alone cannot provide, meaning they offer tremendous potential to target customers with relevant, personalized and appropriately timed messages.

Retailers are still learning how to use beacons to their customers’ and businesses’ benefit – most retailers are still in the testing phase, according to Mobile Payments Today. To successfully leverage beacons, retailers must find ways to get consumers to opt in to receive messages.

According to Red Ant, Beacons provide a wealth of opportunities that are likely to spur more widespread adoption in 2015. “By creating a mesh of beacons and using triangulation, shopping centers, large stores or even public spaces like museums and stadiums can start providing their visitors with the convenience of really useful information based on their immediate environment – with an accuracy measured in inches rather than feet.”

4. Rugged Beyond the Scan and Beep

While many retailers are modernizing with new mobile platforms, rugged devices will still be a key element of retailers’ IT solutions in 2015. Newer, sleeker rugged devices have entered the market over the last few years, running consumer operating systems that most associates will be able to learn to use quickly. Microsoft recently released an SDK for Windows Embedded 8.1 Handheld, which runs on rugged devices but provides a Windows Phone 8.1 user interface. And Motorola’s rugged fleet includes devices that run Android and Windows.

Thanks to modernization, specialized rugged devices will remain relevant for specific applications in retail for years to come. Because they can withstand rough handling in warehouses, trucking terminals, distribution centers and during inventory control, rugged devices will continue to be essential to the retail supply chain in 2015 and beyond.

5. Modernizing the Retail Infrastructure

For the modern retailer, integrated IT systems and sound network infrastructure are critical to business. Customer-facing devices and apps must be tightly integrated with back-end systems. Having the ability to integrate manufacturing, supply and sales channels can drive efficiency, satisfy customers and help ensure sales are made. For example, if a customer wants a product in a size or color that is out of stock, an order management system can provide sales associates with the ability to locate the desired product at another location, close the sale and have the product shipped to the customer.

Implementing secure management systems and networks will become a more important job as technology is further integrated and enabled for retailers and their customers. Ultimately, even the most exciting retail technologies won’t create value until these pillars of technology are stabilized and business processes are modernized to accommodate a mobile-driven model.

For more information on each of these retail trends, download the 2015 retail trends white paper.

Maddie Cook

Maddie Cook

Maddie has a variety of journalism experience as a science and technology reporter, editorial editor and production manager. As a writer for the AirWatch blog, Maddie looks forward to being a resource for mobility professionals.


  1. Jordan

    Great thoughts here! With technology rapidly changing, it’s important for the retail industry to grow with it. People are changing the way they shop and what devices they shop with or on, so retailers need to innovate. Thanks for sharing your insight.

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