Guest Column | January 11, 2013

Retail Printing: Trends & Tips For VARs, ISVs

So much is changing in the world of retail, creating new opportunities and threats for VARs and software developers who operate in this vertical. One of the biggest trends driving much innovation is mobility.

How would you grade the retail industry in terms of technology need and consumption?

Dave Crist, Senior vice president sales and marketing, Brother Mobile Solutions: The retail vertical market has been and will continue to be a huge consumer of technology.  Most retailers have moved beyond the “standard” investment approach to technology in order to gain either productivity benefits or cost savings - there will always be projects in these domains. But they now view new technology deployments as true competitive differentiators – and this appears to be happening in all major tiers and segments of retail. To that end, we see many retailers looking to be early adopters of new technology, especially mobile technology, as a way to gain or maintain their own competitive edge. These retailers tend to be willing partners to test out the latest stuff, work with manufacturers and integrators to tailor or improve the offering, and prove the new technology in their operations as soon as possible.


What is the most significant trend that VARs and/or ISVs need to know about concerning mobility?

Crist: I think most VARs and ISVs working in the retail space have already been involved in driving or supporting the implementation of retailers’ mobility strategies, perhaps even second- or third-generation (re-)deployments of key applications. What appears to be different about the current environment are the elements of speed and diversity. The range of choices retailers now have in terms of different operating systems, development platforms, software applications, technology products and integration approaches is extremely broad AND the landscape is evolving / changing constantly. Retail CIOs and decision makers challenged with evaluating new technologies will increasingly look to VARs and ISVs for deeper expertise and advice.  It’s easy to tell VARs and ISVs that they must become ‘total solutions providers’, but we know it’s very tough for them to focus and become expert before something else replaces it. We’ve recognized this challenge and have re-organized our own resources to align with the frequently changing requirements that come from live implementations.  

How is printing being influenced by the technology revolution taking place in retail?

Crist: There will always be the enterprise-wide or “platform” need for printing in retail, both stationary and mobile. But what’s different now is the need to be very focused and application-specific in how the print function is integrated into new or re-designed work processes. Printing will definitely have its place in a lot of key applications, but we are seeing retailers expect more out of the print function itself: more flexibility across multiple applications, iOS, Android and multiple operating system compatility, greater mobile reach into different retail environments - in general, more nimbleness and fit with the retail customer experience.  


With so many printing options, what should VARs be looking for in terms of products to carry?

Crist: We have encouraged our current and prospective VAR partners to ask themselves a few key questions such as:

1.    How well does the printing solution match up with their customer’s business process or application? This would cover the basics like customer use model, print speed, print quality and resolution, environmental requirements, etc.

2.    If there’s not an ideal match (and there rarely is), what range of customization or solution-building options are there? This covers not only flexibilities in hardware (re)configuration, but also other areas like easy firmware modification, accommodating different approaches to print management, and most importantly, compatibility with a range of mobile computing / tablet / smart phone platforms.

3.    There may also be a second level of product / manufacturer qualification VARs want to run through around such areas as: financial health & stability of the manufacturer, strength of their channel program, and commitment to a long-term product development strategy in their markets - nobody wants to add a bunch of “one hit wonders” to their line card.


What should ISVs be looking at when it comes to developing for today's printers?

Crist: In addition to the same factors a VAR would consider (above), we have seen ISVs particularly focused on ensuring the printer manufacturer they work with has a few key attributes: 1) a great set of technical tools to work with like SDKs and demo apps, 2) technical counterparts who can quickly get “on the same coding wavelength” with them, 3) a “can-do” attitude when the inevitable question, bug or glitch surfaces in a live implementation.


What haven't we mentioned that's important for VARs/ISVs to consider regarding mobility and printing?

Crist: It will be important to remember that in a lot of cases, the retail transaction is not complete until there is printed evidence that it actually did take place. Whether we are talking about a POS receipt, a return label, or a mark-down tag, we’ve had a lot of “turning on the light bulb” moments during discussions with very progressive retail app developers who really didn’t consider the “last mile” of a retail transaction, which is the printed evidence. Many have since engaged with us to better understand mobile print requirements in the retail environment and are developing new code.