Maximizing Mobile Commerce

Bob Carr , Chairman and CEO

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A flood of mobile application solutions have been developed, and more will soon compete for your attention. And it appears that the eventual connection of c-stores with mobile apps will develop rapidly and permanently. We doubt that 10% of the apps in use in five years have even been conjured up yet. Mobile apps are going to change your life. Will you observe what happens, make it happen—or wake up one day and won­der what happened?

It is a testament to our free-enterprise system that the many entrepreneurs in this space keep innovating. However, c-store owners, operators and managers are calling for practical guidance for evaluating and assessing mobile applications that fit their objectives. This is important: The question isn’t “if”—it’s “when.”

Operational Effects

It is important to understand how a consumer purchase made in-store using a self-checkout application from a smartphone will integrate into the operator’s point-of-sale (POS), general ledger and inventory systems. Finding convenience for the consumer and promoting fast checkout comes with other considerations. It is advisable to explore with the app developer how sales data will integrate into management and operational reports. There could be third-party discussions with point-of-sale and inventory system providers and additional costs and timelines to plan around.

A good indication of the ease of integration to other critical business systems is to ask the providers if they use standard interfaces to POS, inventory, general ledger and other management systems. Good examples of industry bodies developing these standards include the National Retail Federation’s Association for Retail Technology Standards (ARTS) and the Petroleum Convenience Alliance for Technology Standards (PCATS). The NRF’s ARTS standards strongly emphasize mobile-application integration that mobile solution providers should know. This tip cuts both ways: When considering future POS and inventory management systems, be certain to ask about the incorporation of standardized interfaces.

Mobile-app vendors may under-emphasize the effects on store operations. Loss-prevention procedures for self-check­out on mobile devices and mobile pump activation require thoughtful design. Expect to add new training for managers and employees to answer consumer ques­tions about how the apps are used, and how to respond when the apps don’t work the way the consumer expected.

Data Privacy and Security

The enthusiasm of introducing “cool” mobile apps to your customers or team members tends to crowd out the practical concerns. When considering the fit of a particular mobile app, it is imperative to evaluate the terms and conditions the consumer will agree to when they down­load the application. The consumer will associate their experience with the appli­cation with your brand, so ensure the application provider’s disposition on data privacy is acceptable to your enterprise.

Also, the application provider should be able to clearly identify the data collected about the consumer’s purchases and other behaviors. Be sure you understand what data pertinent to store operations the app collects, how sensitive data is stored and protected, and ultimately the app provid­er’s data retention and destruction cycles.

More concerns arise when a mobile app is also facilitating payment. Many aspects of mobile commerce and pay­ments defy traditional classifications and regulations; regardless, keep vigilant on how your customer’s data is protected from unauthorized access and how your operations can prevent the use of stolen data. The same standards you may apply to payments made in person at the POS are worthy to review for mobile apps. Be mindful of how enabling acceptance of emerging mobile-payment types will affect the cost of acceptance in every sce­nario you engage in with the consumer.

Mobile applications are finding their way into all aspects of commerce and store operations, and rightly so given the unde­niable growth in consumer and enterprise adoption of mobile devices. Our present challenge is to cultivate solutions that offer the best fit between growing a business and efficiently operating it.

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