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Opinion: why the bring your own device trend isn't right for retail

The ‘Bring Your Own Device’ (BYOD) trend has exploded over the past few years and has infiltrated every business sector, with retailers being no exception. Whether retailers have been happy to adopt the trend or not, they will have found their staff using the functionality of their personal smartphones to help aid their roles as front line sales staff.

As tablets, online shopping and ‘self-service’ begin to monopolise the retail experience, ‘Bricks and mortar’ retailers have not had an easy ride. Physical retail stores need to ensure they are offering an experience and high level of customer service that online simply cannot match.

In turn, front line sales staff need to be equipped with the tools to deal with all customer enquiries and have inventory information at their fingertips. This is where BYOD comes into play, and if employees are not equipped with appropriate tools, they will take matters into their own hands.

However, with the use of personal devices come many issues around durability, security and productivity, which can subsequently affect customer service. Although BYOD is a very hot trend, and on first glance may appear to provide efficiency gains, it is not right for all business sectors. Retailing is one sector where this trend is not appropriate.

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. Smartphones are designed to access and share data in the cloud, increasing the potential for data to be duplicated and moved between applications.

While mobile devices can enable productivity, used incorrectly they can also hinder it. The personal use of mobile devices at work can create disruptive situations. Sales staff are more likely to get distracted, taking attention away from the task in hand and reducing overall productivity and the level of service delivered to the customer.

Additionally, problems such as insufficient battery life can lead to costly and potentially dangerous delays due to missed communications. Smartphones often suffer from poor battery life, leaving them unsuitable for long working days or use across shifts. 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. Retailers can operate from very large sites, with storerooms, elevators, basements and stairwells. It’s essential that within these areas, ‘dead zones’ or decreased voice communication quality aren’t encountered. 

Retailers can combat these challenges through the implementation of purpose-built mobile devices. These offer the benefits of a more mobile sales floor team, 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 spiralling due to loss, theft or extra security measures. They remove the challenge of loss of battery life through the ability to swap batteries at the beginning of a shift, with guaranteed continued 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 site over a Wi-Fi network, including areas such as basements where smartphone network providers may not reach.

The retail sector certainly requires innovations that can assist in establishing competitive advantage and maintaining a profitable operation. However, allowing sales staff to bring their own devices does not fulfil this requirement.

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 mind for optimum efficiencies and longevity to work smarter, not harder.

Simon Watson is director OEM & Global Alliances at Spectralink