Comment: Retailers must take strategic approach to MPoS

Where has retail got to with mobile point of sale (MPoS)? In short – not very far! The market in MPoS is taking longer to mature than expected. The demand for this technology has emotional backing from consumers and retailers alike but is struggling to get a meaningful foothold in UK retail.

To be fair, deploying a mobile PoS solution is harder than it may first appear. Most retailers' existing systems have multiple layers of integration and complexity that needs to be navigated in order to successfully deploy any new solution. On top of that, retailers seem to want to pilot a mobile solution with fully functioning cross-channel capability at very little cost. This is not achievable and is having a detrimental impact on the rate of adoption.

Part of the reason that a cross-channel mobile solution is not achievable is because most retailers don't have that in their regular business. Many have implemented different solutions, particularly for payment across their channels in the UK, and acquirer limitations generally make it a necessity across regions. Stock is also a major issue in terms of managing combined baskets of web and in-store sales.

Retailers are endeavouring to pilot mobile solutions without properly thinking through what they are really trying to achieve, what investment they need to put in to attain a successful solution and how to achieve it in manageable steps. Simply deploying tablets into stores that allow store staff to access your website and take web orders does not constitute a mobile solution.

Then there is the whole question of which system to use to drive in-store mobile PoS; the existing PoS, the website or both?

Investment in mobile PoS seems to be lagging well behind the desire to implement one. This, I believe, is driven by the lack of strategic planning for the implementation of an in-store mobile PoS solution and also the fact that many retailers still treat online and off-line retail sales differently means the cross-channel strategy never really gets joined up. Most of the technology challenges required to be resolved to make mobile PoS a reality need the engagement and willingness of both sides of the business and work across many back-end systems. The future potential though is to significantly address the issues of multiple customer views, product, price, promotions and stock. Something that absolutely has to be addressed if the multichannel/omnichannel vision is to become a reality.

Retailers need to think through what business problems they are trying to solve and what benefits they hope to achieve through the deployment of in-store mobile PoS.

Solutions may be very different depending on the customer journeys being addressed. It is likely that multiple different footprints of devices will need to be deployed and work together seamlessly. It would be practical to approach the deployment of a mobile solution on a phased basis so that implementation and integration challenges can be picked off in stages and meaningful business return data gathered by each customer journey.

There is a battle line being drawn up over what will be the best store system to drive in-store mobile PoS. An interesting article recently from an omnichannel expert extoled the benefits of using the web platform in store and then gave reasons why it won't happen.

However there are some major eCommerce vendors who see it differently. But in the medium term at least, the eCommerce side of retail, which increasing gets the lion's share of investment, will undoubtedly emerge the winners.

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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