More risks than rewards: why retailers should reconsider consumer-grade smartphones

shutterstock_221040982Simon Longhurst, global alliances manager at Spectralink tells Talk Retail how consumer-grade smartphones are actually exposing retailers to serious security, productivity and customer service risks.

From a customer service perspective, dealing with a flood of returns and exchanges means that front line sales staff need to be equipped with the tools to deal with all customer inquiries and have inventory information at their fingertips more so than over normal sales periods. This is where the popularity of the “Bring-Your-Own-Device” trend or providing consumer-grade smartphones may hinder retailers.

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. Additionally, problems like insufficient battery life can lead to costly and potentially dangerous delays due to missed communications. Consumer smartphones often suffer from poor battery life, leaving them unsuitable for long working days or use across shifts. Consumer devices also 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 be very large sites, with storerooms, elevators, basements and stairwells. With heavy returns loads, for example, staff will be traversing the premises more than usual, and it’s essential that within these areas, ‘dead zones’ or decreased voice communication quality aren’t encountered.

These challenges can be combated by retailers through the implementation of purpose-built mobile devices. These devices offer the benefits of a more mobile sales floor staff, 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 spiraling 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, consistent voice quality is guaranteed across the entire site, including areas such as basements where smartphone network providers may not reach.

In order to gain competitive advantage, retailers certainly need to embrace innovations that can assist in establishing benefits and maintaining a profitable operation, especially over peak periods and their aftermath. However, allowing sales staff to bring their own devices does not fulfill this requirement. Front line sales staff require devices specifically designed with retailers in mind 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, while addressing logistical challenges, no matter what changes to the peaks and troughs the industry experiences.