Retailers see operational uses for cellphones, tablets
LAS VEGAS -- Ed Collupy announced to about 200 retailers at a 2012 NACS Show workshop last week in Las Vegas that the many uses of mobile technology include consumer marketing, loyalty and payments--but he and his fellow panelists would not be talking about any of those.
Instead, the vice president of retail IT and POS systems for the Cary, N.C.-based The Pantry said the topic would be about using mobile technology to help in-field personnel better manage stores, access real-time business intelligence and prioritize tasks for store-level employees.
Collupy said internal uses of mobile technology started with e-mails and "texting," but is growing to include signing documents, strengthening customer relationships and conducting remote monitoring. Though early in the game, his chain is already allowing its board of directors access to information using tablets.
Applications today allow field managers to receive comparative sales reports or spot inventory and operational abnormalities, according to panelist Greg Gilkerson, president, PDI, Temple, Texas. He said that c-store managers are always interested in more reporting and getting data in the field.
Initially, one hurdle was getting customers to enter data consistently and accurately, but Gilkerson said that once clients understood why, they followed through. As phone and table applications develop, he noted that different formats are required for a smartphone solution vs. a tablet, just because of the physical make-up of each. Phones need more of a scrolling interface due to screen size, while tablets can resemble a PC screen.
Functionality in the mobile space is also growing, involving the ability to execute tasks such as price-sign changes, said panelists Aaron McHugh, PriceAdvantage division director, Skyline Electronic Price Displays and PriceAdvantage, Colorado Springs, Colo. For instance, his product originally focused on making gas-price postings change automatically, initiated at a corporate site.
"Today, technology is connected," McHugh said. "So an Android [phone], an iPhone or an iPad can manage the process."
Mobile solutions can also help retailers track store-level execution, even providing employees with prioritized lists of tasks. Murtaza Ghadyali, vice president of sales, Reflexis Systems Inc., Dedham, Mass., said 2%-5% of sales are lost through poor execution.
Questions to resolve include whether to use employees' personal devices or to buy them; how to manage security, access control and device deployment; and deciding to use browser-based access or doing something in-house, Ghadyali said.