This article originally appeared in VAR Insights.  To read the article on that site, please click here.

Renewed focus on IT in brick-and-mortar retail stores was one of the major themes emerging from NRF 2016, the National Retail Federation’s Retail BIG Show. Other trends that continue to create buzz across the industry are mobile POS, omnichannel retailing, and a strong focus on the customer experience as a competitive differentiator.

It’s no secret many consumers use their mobile devices as they plan shopping excursions and continue to use them inside the stores. Whether to check product availability, compare store-to-store prices, or get additional product details, most shoppers today rely on digital devices — smartphones, tablets, and laptops — to get the information they want, instantaneously.

The NRF’s 2016 forecast projects retail industry sales will grow 3.1 percent this year. In an industry where competition keeps growing and profit margins are shrinking, it’s more important than ever before for retail system VARs to recognize the business value of developing solutions designed to integrate mobile technology into brick-and-mortar operations. Following are four reasons to focus on on-store mobile technology.

  1. Retailers are clamoring for mobile technology — and VARs can provide turnkey solutions. Recent industry studies reveal retailers are ramping up investments in in-store technology improvements, such Wi-Fi wireless networking and integrated software solutions for mobile POS. An Innovative Retail Technologies survey of more than 500 retailers across diverse industry segments reveals:
  • 35 percent plan to invest in mobile POS in 2016
  • more than 28 percent plan to invest in mobile printers
  • nearly 25 percent plan to invest in mobile devices for store associates
  • nearly 33 percent are prioritizing wireless networking
  • 28 percent are planning to implement a POS software solution
  1. Mobility improves customer experience, strengthens brand loyalty. Mobile POS systems are designed to increase customer engagement by empowering sales associates to interact with shoppers. Using handheld digital devices or computer display screens, a store’s cadre of untethered associates can provide personal customer assistance wherever on the sales floor it is needed. In an apparel store, for example, associates can help shoppers locate specific items, check inventory for alternative sizes and colors, and recommend accessories such as shoes, belts, and purses. Proactive and helpful customer service can help increase store sales while reducing the number of frustrated shoppers and abandoned carts. Many retailers now deploying mobile technology on the sales floor report more positive customer experiences and increased loyalty, as well as higher productivity and morale for the sales team.
  2. Integrated mobile POS helps reduce costs, increase efficiency of store operations. Leading retail industry software firms have developed in-store mobile POS solutions designed to make store operations more efficient, productive and dynamic. The systems encompass application software, plus hardware that includes smart devices and compact mobile label and receipt printers for on-demand printing from virtually everywhere in the store. Through the store’s wireless network, sales associates can complete transactions on the sales floor, using the printer to generate sales and return receipts on the spot. Associates can also use the printers to print product markdown labels, shelf markers, customer discount and promotional coupons. To derive maximum value, the mobile POS system needs to integrate smoothly with existing store IT systems to provide a seamless continuum of data around sales transactions and customer activities.
  3. In-store mobility is an essential step towards achieving omnichannel goals. With so many different ways consumers can choose to shop today, retailers are challenged to formulate omnichannel and Big Data strategies capable of aggregating customer information and real-time transactions into a single database. Omnichannel retailing can be defined as the integration of physical channels (in-store) and digital channels (e-commerce) to provide a seamless and unified customer experience. While still largely aspirational for most retailers, omnichannel is a goal worth striving for. Implementing an integrated in-store mobile solution into the retail network is an integral step in that process, and that’s where solution VARs can provide the high value their clients crave and deserve.

Don’t Overlook Mobile Printers

What retailers need from solution designers, developers and system integrators are affordable, easy to use, turnkey solutions that can further their corporate and operational goals. If you are a VAR serving the retail community, it’s important to specify a mobile printer designed to deliver optimal value. Remember, these printers will be used by a variety of different store associates, some of whom may not be tech savvy. So it’s crucial to look for rugged construction, reliable printing performance, ease of use, versatility, and smart functionality that includes easy-to-read display screens plus clear menu icons and intuitive navigation.

Additional features to look for include dual wireless connectivity (Wi-Fi and Bluetooth), and compatibility with major operating systems, such as iOS, Android, Windows and Windows Mobile. These capabilities help protect the printer investment by ensuring that the printers will operate seamlessly even if the retailer changes or upgrades the tablets or smart devices used on the sales floor.

For many retailers, it may not be practical or cost effective to invest in dedicated printers for each specific function, such as desktop receipt printers at checkout counters, label printers for pricing and markdowns, and specialized printers for shelf markers. With the growing adoption of mobile POS, retailers striving to do more with less need more flexible options. Today’s compact, all-in-one mobile printers can be used interchangeably for all of these functions. These next generation printers can perform double and even triple duty in every area of the store, and can even be used off-site in pop-up mall kiosks, so their return on investment is high.

Ravi Panjwani is Vice President Marketing and Product Management for Brother Mobile Solutions, a premier provider of mobile and desktop thermal printing products for mobile workforces.

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