Guest Column | August 20, 2013

Mobile POS Hardware: Alternatives To The iPad/iPhone

By Frank Riso, senior director of global lead retail for Motorola Solutions

Retailers are increasing their ability to provide point of sale (POS) alternatives as part of their continued efforts to improve their customers’ shopping experience. The growing trend is mobile point of sale (MPOS), which enables a store associate to use a mobile device to scan the items to be purchased and to accept payment using a bank card for both credit and debit payments.

MPOS usage has significantly increased in recent years. IHL Group reports that MPOS will capture more than 12 percent of the traditional POS market by 2016. By the end of this year, more than 30 percent of retailers are expected to have implemented an MPOS solution, with specialty retailers the largest segment to deploy it in their stores.

Use of Consumer Devices in Retail

Retailers have been looking at devices such as iPad, iTouch, and iPhone because the initial acquisition costs are lower than the price of traditional mobile computers. These devices are very familiar to store associates, as they probably already own a similar device. And to enable them to run applications, retailers have found software developers for these devices as well as peripherals, including for MPOS credit card payments.

Apple’s products are designed, manufactured, and sold for consumer use. They were never intended to be used in a retail store for store-level applications or to bear the burden of a long retail shift. Initially, the acquisition price of the device was the main attraction, and some retailers knew that they could buy two or three devices for the same price as a traditional mobile computer. 

Some major retailers heralded their investment in Apple devices as the latest innovation to help provide improved customer service. Now, however, a number of these retailers have discovered that the Apple devices they deployed to all of their stores need to be replaced with more durable, dependable, and secure enterprise-class mobile computers.

The Pitfalls Detract from Customer Service

An unintended side effect has been less customer engagement with store associates using the consumer devices — shoppers did not know if the associate was working. The Apple device used by the associate was most likely the same device used by the customer for texting and other personal use, so this resulted in reduced customer service levels at these stores.

Apple devices were designed for consumers in a very competitive smartphone marketplace and are frequently updated with no advance warning for retailers. Retailers have not been able to keep up with the changes in software, features and accessories. In addition, if these devices were dropped by store staff, often they would break and need to be replaced. A number of retailers also added peripherals to make the devices more rugged but that took away from the “cool factor” and also significantly added bulk and  cost to the device.

Better Tech Options for Retailers

Today’s enterprise-class mobile computers keep pace with technology innovations in the marketplace, prioritize backward compatibility with applications and accessories and maintain at least a 3-year lifecycle.

Devices such as Motorola Solutions’ MC40 enterprise mobile computer and the ET1 enterprise tablet use the Android operating system so that store staff can leverage a durable device built for the retail shopping floor.

These mobile computers offer a consumer look and feel similar to Apple’s but are rated for multiple drops without breaking. They can be customized with a store logo so that customers know that retail associates are working and available to help. These productivity tools include payment and imager-based scanners for the quick reading of bar codes without adding third-party attachments. A variety of accessories are available for traditional mobile computers that allow several units to be charged at one time and separate batteries that can be swapped out while being used to keep the devices in service without leaving a customer’s side.

Other MPOS Considerations

Traditional enterprise-class mobile computers are designed for people who do not work in an office. They are designed for people who are mobile when they are at work. When store associates change locations in the store, they need to adjust the wireless access point being used for data and voice communications. Traditional mobile computers are designed to switch from one access point to another with no interruptions. Consumer devices are not designed to do that; as a result, retailers have had instances of lost data. This is a very serious concern if the store is doing MPOS transactions, loses the connection, and has to start the transaction all over again — resulting in an unsatisfied customer and lost productivity for the retailer. 

Security is the biggest concern that retailers have when it comes to using consumer devices for store applications and especially for MPOS. Consumer device security is good, but it doesn’t compare to a Motorola enterprise-class mobile computer connected to a Motorola wireless network protected with Enterprise Application Protection (EAP). 

Overall, Apple’s devices seem to have lower costs, a cool look and feel, and are easy to use.  But, it has been well-documented by industry analysts and experienced by many retailers that the total cost of ownership for the three-year life of a traditional mobile computer is less than using Apple devices that need to be replaced at the going rate of every six to eight months. The newer traditional mobile computers also sport a cool look, are able to withstand multiple drops without breaking, and line of business applications are even easier to learn and operate with the Android operating system. If you plan to implement an MPOS solution for less than a year, then a consumer device is a viable choice. But, if you are looking for a longer-lasting secure MPOS solution, then Motorola can provide a better alternative.

If you are interested in learning more, visit Motorola MPOS solutions.

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