Guest Column | October 16, 2012

A Marriage Of Retail & Mobile Printing

By Mike Monocello, chief editor

What are some of the biggest trends when it comes to mobile printing in retail?
The way we are looking at the mobile market are opportunities that are inside the four walls of an organization and outside the four walls of an organization. 

As you look at both of those paths, I think there are hot opportunities in both of those areas.  Within the four walls, one of the things that we're seeing a lot of growth in is refreshing existing technology that’s already been installed specifically within the retail space.

As Zebra has come out recently with some new technologies, those organizations who have purchased previous generations of Zebra mobile products have seen the benefit that these new technologies can bring to their organizations, with regard to increased efficiencies, speeds of operation, etc. 

The other hot opportunity we see is the whole idea of mobile point of sale. The concept of line busting: you got a line of people a mile long waiting to check out; you can help bring that line down to speed customer processing time, and also you've got workers who are kind of roaming within the retail force space. Whether it's like a big box appliance store where you’re not going to take somebody through the checkout line to purchase a refrigerator or a washer and dryer so you can have that person, the sales person on the store floor, with a mobile device, a handheld device and they can actually process the transaction on the store floor right in front of the washer and dryer that the customer is buying and provide with a receipt with a mobile printer.

Are there any other needs of the retail market that mobile printing is able to solve at this point?
People outside the market often don’t realize how many different labels and tags are in a general retail store.  Most people don't think about it, but you need a printer to print label to go on the shelf. 

Also, apparel stores need hang tags on the garments. Those tags had to be produced somewhere. Additionally, think about “mark down” price tags on those garments or even in the grocery stores on perishables as they get older. All those labels had to be produced from somewhere.

What about RFID?
Don’t discount RFID. We’ve seen a lot of interest in tagging certain types of apparel as the price of RFID tags has come down. RFID technology can give retailers deeper visibility into their supply chains. Specifically on a retail floor. RFID gives retailers greater visibility of out of stock conditions or near out of stock conditions so they can replenish that stock and avoid a lost sale.  

For example, consider a Macy's store, where a customer might encounter a stack of jeans on the shelf and they’re looking for a certain size.  If they’re all marked with a RFID tag, instead of looking through piles and piles of jeans, the associate can help with a handheld RFID scanner, scan fifteen stacks of jeans, and point exactly where the pair lies. This can increase customer satisfaction.

Out of stock conditions with RFID can virtually disappear or come very close to zero, then equally as important is taking inventory.  With RFID, retailers can do it within a matter of hours.  Again, with an RFID scanner, scan all the stacks of clothing, dramatically reducing the amount of time needed.

Where are some other areas VARs can make money?
One of the challenges that retailers have specifically with mobile devices — when you’re thinking about the handhelds and thinking about the printers — is the management of those devices. 

If you think of a retailer that has a thousand stores, how do they manage each of those mobile devices from a network perspective?  Of course, Zebra offers solutions to help manage devices and reduce the amount of resources needed to do so.

Another thing that might seem a little mundane but is very critical in a mobile environment is battery management.  If you’ve got fifty mobile devices in your store times a thousand stores, there’s fifty thousand batteries you have to worry about.

Most the battery technology is similar to that of a cell phone.  As you probably know the cell phone battery starts degrading over time.  Instead of relying on the end user to judge how much life is left in the battery, we’ve developed a smart batter that tells the end user that they need to start thinking about replacing the battery or replace it now. Even more powerful, the battery information can be sent through the network to the IT crew to let them know that status of all batteries in the field.