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EETE FEB 2015

WIRELESs COMUNICATIONS In-store networks: how consumer-grade smartphones run more risks than rewards TBy Simon Longhurst he UK’s end-of-year holiday sales season sees masses of shoppers flocking to retailers’ physical and online stores. Now encompassing US imports like Black Friday and Cyber Monday, retailers are having to address a rapidly rising number of logistical nightmares associated with the expanded shopping rush. This in turn is placing increasing pressure on retailers to optimize their in-store network strategies. In an industry like retail where competition is fierce and a mere second’s delay in service can lose sales, retailer communication tool selection strategies are under the microscope. Some retailers have been known to settle with deploying consumer-grade smartphones, but this is actually exposing them to serious security and customer service risks. A key concern that illustrates the challenges associated with allowing the use of consumer-grade devices by in-store employees is that, while the holiday shopping season is now over, many stores are having to deal with aftermath of returns. The Wall Street Journal reports that consumers are now returning about $60 billion worth of merchandise during the whole holiday season – about 20 percent of a year’s total. From a customer service perspective, dealing with a flood of returns and exchanges means that front line sales staff need to be equipped with the tools to deal with all customer enquiries and have inventory information at their fingertips more so than over normal sales periods. This is where the popularity of the BYOD trend or providing consumer-grade smartphones may hinder retailers, and if staff are not equipped with appropriate tools, they will take matters into their own hands wherever possible. However, while the use of consumer-grade smartphones may at first glance appear to provide efficiency gains, it is not right for all business sectors. Retailing is a sector where this trend is not appropriate – especially for their in-store networks. For retailers willing to let employees select or bring their own devices, the IT department has to deal with a range of systems, products and platforms. While sales staff may find increased satisfaction, IT teams may find maintaining and integrating these devices is a complicated, if not impossible, task. Unsurprisingly, security is one of the top concerns when it comes to using mobile devices to access sensitive company data. Consumer smartphones are designed to access and share data in the cloud, increasing the potential for data to be duplicated and moved between applications. Additionally, problems like insufficient battery life – a common issue with consumer smartphones – can lead to costly and potentially dangerous delays due to missed communications. For retail staff, a constant connection to retail business systems, as well as to each other, is crucial. This is something that consumer smartphones just can’t provide. Similarly, consumer devices lack the durability required in a fast-paced retail environment. Impact and dropped devices can easily damage devices not equipped to cope. Guaranteed voice quality is another issue that must be addressed across in-store network strategies. Retailers can be very large sites, with storerooms, elevators, basements and stairwells. With heavy returns loads, for example, staff will be traversing the premises more than usual, and it’s essential that within these areas, ‘dead zones’ or decreased voice communication quality aren’t encountered. Retailers also require a communication solution that interoperates with their call control platforms, Wi-Fi networks and business-specific applications that drive workflow. Consumer smartphones can provide the seamless interoperability required to maintain continuous and uninterruptable communication throughout the workplace. Retailers can combat these challenges through the implementation of purpose-built mobile devices. These devices offer the benefits of a more mobile sales floor staff, but alleviate specific fundamental shortfalls of smartphones. Security concerns are eliminated because purpose-built devices only operate over the confines of a retail store’s Wi-Fi network, preventing costs from spiraling due to loss, theft or extra security measures. Purpose-built devices remove the challenge of loss of battery life with the ability to swap batteries at the beginning of a shift, with continued battery life through to the end of a shift. They also negate the need for further precautions for durability as they are built to withstand challenging environments and can withstand multiple drops even onto concrete floors. Furthermore, high voice quality is guaranteed across the entire in-store network, including areas such as basements where smartphone network providers may not reach. And, purpose-built smartphones can integrate with the call control platform and in-store Wi-Fi network so the communication devices act like any other telephone or computer within the store. Furthermore, purposebuilt devices can support business-specific applications like inventory control, alarms and alerts all within the store’s network. In-store network implementation for retailers certainly requires innovations that can assist in establishing competitive advantage and maintaining a profitable operation, especially over peak sales periods and the resulting logistical issues. However, allowing sales staff to bring their own devices does not fulfil this requirement, and instead, brings to retailers a host of avoidable security concerns. Furthermore, front line sales staff require instant access to pricing, offers and stock information at their fingertips, allowing them to remain on the shop floor. This enables them to serve customers faster and better. Retailers require purpose-built mobile handsets which are specifically designed with retailers in-store networks in mind for optimum security, and provide efficiencies allowing both staff and networks to work smarter, not harder. Only then can they tackle customer service and logistical challenges, without worrying about security issues, no matter what changes to the peaks and troughs the industry experiences. Simon Longhurst is Global Alliances Manager at Spectralink – www.spectralink.com 34 Electronic Engineering Times Europe February 2015 www.electronics-eetimes.com


EETE FEB 2015
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