Effective Retail Mobilization: New Rules

Over the past year, we have seen many retailers making the switch to in-store mobility. Retailers such as Sears, Home Depot, Urban Outfitters and Nordstrom are not only equipping their staff with mobile devices — they’re handing them to customers as well, to help make shopping more efficient and convenient for all parties involved.

For example, Lowe’s, the second largest home improvement store in the world, is taking in-store mobility to the next level with its recent announcement to equip employees with Apple iPads. More than just a simple rollout, the numbers — 42,000 tablets across 1725 stores — signal a major shift in enterprise mobility.

These devices are aimed at improving the customer experience. They’re also designed to provide new ways to create, manage and rapidly deploy mobile business applications at the store level, and to provide faster access to information online, allowing managers to execute tasks faster and at lower costs. In addition, many employees look to their mobile devices as their preferred (or only) method of communication, for both work and home.

This “consumerization” of the workplace has happened so fast that most IT departments are now playing catch-up, trying to keep employees happy while securing data and managing expenses. In fact, between the pending Google-Motorola merger, the iPhone 4S release and other recent mobile developments, these migrations are going to happen fast. The shift from BlackBerry to Android and iPhone for enterprise use has already accelerated: Research shows that non-RIM smartphone share among enterprise users has grown 37 percent in the last 12 months.

The Challenges of Consumerization

Organizations today are facing a few key mobile challenges. For one, usage has grown steadily, bringing rapid changes in devices, plans and rates — along with the need to make them all work together. In addition, costs have spiraled, and there is a greater need to manage expenses and protect company data without hurting productivity or employee morale. Finally, MEM (mobile expense management) is not the same as TEM (telecom expense management), so the rules of TEM are simply not as successful in the mobile arena.

With the wide variety of devices and mobile plans, it can be a nightmare to try to consolidate services and rates across an organization. Some have gone the route of forcing employees to use a certain device, while some have taken the other extreme and allowed any device to be used on work-related activities. Each of these approaches has its own problems — ranging from pretending that employees won’t find ways to use nonapproved devices on work items, to disrupting workflow and productivity so much that it ultimately affects morale and leads good employees to leave. This is where MEM can help.

MEM solutions have been specifically developed to help even the most complex organizations provide the critical tools needed to gain quick and easy control over their mobile expenses. With MEM, retailers can access all the details they need regarding their mobile expenditures (invoices, plans, devices), can adjust them as needed, and can even apply critical policies to help ensure consistency across the organization.

Below are a few important tips for retailers looking to roll out in-store mobility programs:

  • Make sure your corporate mobile usage policies are in place before you launch any in-store mobility program. Create guidelines specifically around break and out-of-work policies to govern use.
  • Understand group plans in order to optimize individual usage with price points and avoid overpaying for unused services.
  • Review and inspect service plans on a regular basis. Pay close attention to your mobile device service bills to ensure that they match the contract you signed. This will help you to avoid missing discounts and ensure contract compliance.
  • Beware of unnecessary charges. Employees who are using mobile devices may be getting crammed. Unauthorized phone charges cost Americans more than $2 billion a year; don’t let your company fall victim to cramming.
  • Renegotiate your wireless service plan often. This should not be a one-time negotiation; it must be done on a consistent basis to get the best rates and optimal service plans. Using powerful mobile expense management analytics tools can be very helpful in automating this arduous process and keeping your costs down.
  • Weed Out Abusers. In every office, an employee or two is likely abusing the system and downloading movies over a phone while working at a desktop. Without the regular review of usage, these issues would never be found, and costs would remain artificially high.
  • Understand your policy for adding new devices, replacing broken devices or upgrading. Work with your service provider to make sure you will not be hit with large fees when you need to add more devices to your plan.
  • Set up a private WiFi network for employees to access whenever possible. This will limit the data usage on the carrier’s bandwidth and in turn save retailers money.

For all the major retailers developing in-store mobile programs, a critical success factor will be how well they understand and manage their mobile expenses. Otherwise, it could mean thousands of dollars a year wasted on unwanted/unneeded services — or even illegal charges.

David Spofford, CEO of Xigo, has 20 years of telecom, management consulting, and business ownership experience. In 2000, he cofounded Xigo (formerly Invoice Insight) with its CTO Robert Smith.

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