Comment: Apple's in-store tablets are not the only fruit

MCommerce is typically targeted towards the use of consumer mobile devices to drive and enhance the shopping experience. This is certainly the most mature market. However, retailers are increasingly examining the investment of mobile technology in stores in order to enhance the customer experience via store staff use of mobile devices.

From a consumer perspective Apple is still the biggest player but its dominance has waned, particularly in the tablet market with android taking a significantly bigger slice. The tablet market was just under 200 million units last year with android now accounting for 62% (Apple’s early market share was 90%) with Samsung the biggest android vendor which grew at an incredible 336% last year.

From a retailer perspective many first mobile pilots are predicated on Apple devices, often because the marketing guys just want an iPad in store. Pilots based on this premise are destined to failure.

The retail market will really benefit from the deployment of well-thought-through store staff usage of mobile technology. Consumers are looking to receive the same level of service across all channels more and more, and there's not an awful lot that retailers can do to enhance the consumer shopping experience via fixed tills.

Effective use of mobile technology will allow retailers to really put the customer at the centre of all transactions within the store but retailers need to understand that there is not one single solution that can deployed that will effectively enhance the various consumer journeys in store. A tablet device is great for showrooming or range extension but is not really suitable for queue-busting. For this a smaller footprint device is more appropriate.

Retailers need to build their mobile strategy on the basis of the user journeys they want to enhance via mobile technology and plan for various different device footprints to meet the business's demands.

I personally do not believe that Apple devices are best suited for the store environment. From a commercial perspective you can buy two to three android devices of similar footprint for one Apple device. On a large-scale deployment this cost differential is too big to ignore. Devices such as the 7” Samsung are coming down to a price point that almost makes them consumable devices therefore eliminating maintenance costs – another big saving.

The cost of the retail peripherals required to deliver a complete mobile point of sale (PoS) solution (scanners, printers, PEDs) are also tumbling and we are fast approaching the point where retailers should be asking themselves why do I need a fixed PoS anyway? If I can find a way of managing cash then I can free up lots of selling space and deliver all of the required sales transaction to my customers wherever they are in the store.

Most retail PoS vendors have a mobile solution and many web vendors are also getting into this space. Significant impetus is being given to the use of retailer mobile solutions and the solutions are improving quickly.

Retailers have been deploying kiosks over the past couple of years and many more are deploying mobile tablets to analyse what delivers the best returns. Some are simply putting their website on to a tablet to drive range extension or allow ordering of out of stock items, but many are starting to deploy fully functioning PoS via tablets. My bet is that those that do this effectively will see significant sales and margin improvements.

PMC's Huw Thomas is a regular columnist for Essential Retail, and you can read his views on mCommerce every month.

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