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Lessons Learned In Enterprise Mobility in Retail

This was, admittedly, a rather disappointing weekend.  No no…I’m not talking about the emotionally crushing defeat that my beloved New England Patriots suffered yesterday in Superbowl XLVI.  I’m talking instead about a visit I made to a “Big Box” retail store.  I went to that store looking at kitchen appliances.  The most exciting part of that visit was when I realized that all the salespeople in that department were carrying iPads.

Much to the frustration of my spouse, I stopped asking questions about appliances and instead focused my inquiries around the sales person’s experience using the iPad in a retail environment.  Would you be surprised if I told you that a couple of other sales people overheard the conversation and voiced their own opinions?  I was super excited to hear what they had to say.  I explained to them that I work in “this” space and was keen to understand what they liked and didn’t like about carrying the device around.

Let’s just say I was very surprised by the sales people’s reactions on the subject.  They did not like carrying the iPad around.  They actually thought it reduced their productivity.  I (obviously) needed to hear more.

Firstly, they simply did not like having to carry the 1lb device with them all day.  Sure, the iPads were in a protective cover and sling, but the sling made it look like all the sales people had broken clavicles.  It was just “annoying.”

Second, they found the application slow – very slow.  Sure, it was convenient (in one respect) to be able to show customers product brochures, as well as pricing and inventory on the mobile devices, but it took forever to load the information on the devices (even though it appeared as if the iPads were on WiFi and not WWAN).  But here’s the kicker….you still have to go to the cash register to actually make a purchase.  One salesperson said something to the effect of

“What’s the point of having all this information on the tablet if I still have to go back to the terminal to complete the purchase?”

Sounds like a fair question to me.

There was a wonderful lesson to be learned here that I felt compelled to share with you all regarding your enterprise mobility deployments.  There’s no question that mobile devices and mobile applications can improve employee productivity and customer satisfaction…if done right.  What I learned however was that the “right” includes some subtle and not-so-subtle factors.

Speed and performance of an application are a given.  You always want to ensure that the applications start up quickly and can access corporate information in a timely fashion.  But who would have thought that the strap could make a difference?  In my not so statistically significant sample size, it turns out it can make a major difference.  However, the fact that the purchase transaction could not be completed, wherever the customer and sales person were on the show floor, seems to defeat the purpose (in my opinion) of having the tablets in a retail environment….they were basically “heavy” brochureware.

So was this mobile application development an abject failure?  No.  The sales people saw the potential of using the iPad in their job, and they have been assured that improvements were going to be deployed “shortly” to improve the functionality and performance of the application, but until then, they found the tablets to be more trouble than they were worth.  That doesn’t sound like good ROI to me.

So with all this said, my final thoughts for you in today’s missive is that your mobile application strategy must take into account far more than just what the application can/will do, but more importantly how the users will be using the devices in the “real world,” and also make sure you take into consideration some less than obvious factors that can ultimately determine how successful your mobile application strategy will be.


  1. Posted February 6, 2012 at 12:12 | Permalink

    I would love to see the monthly revenue figures for the store over the next six months to see if they get the ROI that they are expecting. The nice thing about software is that it can always be updated and improved.

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    • Posted February 6, 2012 at 16:12 | Permalink

      I would equally like to see what the projections were of the impact the tablets would have in that department. It’s worth noting that tablets were not being used in all sections of the store. (yet?)

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      • Posted February 7, 2012 at 09:32 | Permalink

        probably an element of “we have got to be seen to be with it and be using these devices” and this is what they thought of initially – replace the brochures. This approach isn’t necessarily wrong as long as they use this as a starting point, take the feedback and develop it from there to deliver real business benefits. Fits in with the old Tom Peters saying …Ready, Fire, Aim …

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  2. Posted February 7, 2012 at 09:03 | Permalink

    That’s an interesting insight but I feel that it is Big Box’s strategy which is incredibly flawed not their idea entirely.

    I recently wrote a blog about my own experience of Enterprise Mobility in retail after visiting an Urban Outfitters store in Miami.

    Feel free to check it out here:

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  3. Posted February 7, 2012 at 09:12 | Permalink

    This brings to mind a discussion with regards to mobile UX and the importance of context. When you consider context for a mobile app context includes the physical and/or environmental, the media (how will data/info be captured and interacted with) and the modal (or state of mind). In the example above, the context didn’t appear to be taken into full consideration – physical (lack of speed and functionality “on the store floor”) and modal (how the devices were carried around and the “impression” they made on the employees who carried them – your comment on the broken clavicle). Mobile devices are an extension of the person and as such you have a much more personal connection with how you use the device. Thanks for posting this story – it certainly keeps me thinking about how enterprise mobile apps must be designed in order to get the ROI organizations are planning for.

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  4. Posted June 14, 2012 at 01:41 | Permalink

    I could see the customer support staff of Singapore Airlines using iPad to help passengers with the flight details, and I did have a chat with them about how they found the introduction of iPad to their job. The response was that they no longer had to be at a desk, making passengers walk to them and wait in queues. The airline employees in uniform, near departure gates and waiting lounges could be approached by passengers and the information they required could be provided without any delay – a classical example of improving customer satisfaction! I think the retail shop experience mentioned above could be improved, integrating the app with payment services and enhancing performance..


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