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In-store mobile solutions gaining a foothold

UK-based phone retailer Carphone Warehouse announced on Tuesday that its like-for-like sales grew by 2.3% in its fourth quarter, compared to the same period one year before. From a retail technology perspective, however, there was a clear message from the company that the use of tablets in its stores is boosting customer service levels.

CEO Andrew Harrison used the quarterly results update, which was for the 13 weeks to 29 March 2014, to highlight the company's success with its tablet-based sales tool Pin Point – a system used by its staff to serve customers at different locations around its stores.

Harrison said that the use of the tablet technology, which allows the Carphone Warehouse workforce to research and present tariffs tailored to consumers' needs, has helped drive customer satisfaction and conversion, as well as benefitting shoppers, network operators and the retailer itself.

Huw Thomas, managing director of retail IT services provider PMC, told Essential Retail that the use of mobile technology by store staff is becoming increasingly prevalent – and this year should see "a big increase in adoption". The new UK stores currently being rolled out by Vodafone, for example, will see staff armed with tablet devices.

"Solutions such as those provided by Carphone Warehouse deliver a valuable assistance to consumers and do more to drive the demand for in store personalised services that mobile solutions are ideally positioned to satisfy," he explained.

"Whether it's about niche apps or making your existing solutions more consumer friendly to deliver an enhanced customer experience, mobile is finally getting the foothold it deserves. Retailers have a bit of catching up to do to arm their store staff with better technology solutions that their customers have but effective solutions are on the way."

Consumer electronics business Apple and fashion retailer Burberry have reported success when it comes to serving customers with iPads during the in-store shopping experience, and other industry players look set to start using this tactic over the coming months. Monsoon Accessorize also recently launched a pilot of its in-store sales application, Monsoon Accessorize Extended, which sees staff use Apple iPads to engage with customers and process transactions using a system based on Micros Retail Assistant.

Apple said last week that it has gained traction in the corporate world in recent years as a number of organisations across the public and private sectors have invested in its hardware and services. Responding to analyst questions during its second-quarter conference call, CEO Tim Cook said that approximately 98% of the Fortune 500 companies use iPads in some part of their business.

Spencer Izard, head of European retail insights & executive advisory programme at IDC Insights, argued that Apple gained initial success in the business world due to the use of its products by senior leaders.

Since then, he added, there has been a designated strategy to get its products into a corporate environment, while retailers often want to be associated with Apple's brand strength by using its devices in-store.

"Apple has been working hard to develop the management software needed to support the broader adoption of Apple devices in the corporate environment," Izard noted.

"A lot of small-to-medium-sized retailers have adopted the use of iPads in-store but the use of tablets as point-of-sale (PoS) devices is still in its infancy across all sizes and types of retailer but I expect this will change rapidly over the next few years as the established PoS vendors provide methods to use an iPad, and other tablets, as part of a PoS solution."

Using iPads and other tablet devices in-store can help retailers extend their physical space, with PMC's Thomas saying that it is important for businesses in the industry to merge their digital platforms with their bricks and mortar environments. He argued that everything a customer can do online should be possible in the store. 

He commented: "I'm tired of hearing everyone talk about how great the Apple store is when every retailer has the opportunity to be just as innovative – who says not every retailer can have the Apple effect?

"The technology is out there and the retailers just need to focus on really enhancing the customer experience and use it in the right way – the results released from Carphone Warehouse this week prove just that."