Jun 26 2018

Retailers Can Empower Their Workers with Mobile Apps

Behind-the-scenes applications optimize in-store operations and ultimately help build better relationships with customers.

While customer-facing mobile applications get a lot of press for their impact on shoppers, apps geared toward sales associates and managers offer equally impressive benefits to retailers.

That’s because internal apps give workers real-time access to product and inventory information and help retailers create an easy, consistent in-store experience for customers. They can even provide management with valuable insights into worker productivity.

For example, by tracking sales per payroll hour via a mobile app, managers at The Container Store can better understand how each sales associate performs at different times of day. According to a post on PYMNTS.com, the information enables managers to make data-driven staffing and scheduling decisions.

Lowe’s also outfits its workers with a handful of apps designed to help them work smarter and more efficiently, Click Z reports. For instance, representatives on the floor can use an app to calculate credit, instantly estimating the customer’s fixed monthly payments to drive the sale.

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How to Choose the Right App for Your Store

As retailers look to mobile solutions to improve operations and serve the customer, decision-makers should determine a strategy for developing and deploying internal apps. Three options take center stage:

1. Off-the-Shelf Apps Can Be Deployed Quickly 

Particularly useful for retailers in need of time-tracking and inventory management solutions, prebuilt apps can be deployed quickly and easily, with a comparatively small price tag. Of course, off-the-shelf apps can’t accommodate every business need or objective.

2. Fully Custom Apps Help Achieve Particular Goals 

At the other end of the spectrum, custom mobile apps can be designed to achieve retail’s unique goals. These solutions usually require substantial time and money investments, but the payoff is worth it — custom apps can create more efficient processes that transform business.

3. Partially Custom Apps Split the Difference 

Platform-based apps — which rely on an app developer such as Kony or IBM to provide back-end infrastructure — give retailers a way to simplify app deployment without sacrificing function. Because they can access the vendor’s tools, infrastructure and processes, IT personnel don’t need to build the environment before they can benefit from the app.

The white paper “Mobile Applications: Seizing the Opportunity” describes how one retailer made the most of this strategy:

Lenoir, N.C.-based Bernhardt Furniture turned to IBM MobileFirst to create an app to replace its paper-based system for placing furniture orders during the biannual High Point Market trade show. Its old system was time consuming and error-prone, so the company set out to replace it through a mobile app. Bernhardt’s IT team didn’t have the resources or skills to create the app in house, so they turned to IBM Emerging Technologies’ jStart team and its Bluemix cloud-based Platform as a Service to create a virtual showroom app for iPad devices. The app houses all of the tools and paper catalogs employees once had to flip through on sales calls, allowing them to locate furniture and place orders directly through the app.

That change removed one more roadblock from the sales process, proving that whether they’re prebuilt, custom or platform-based, internal-facing apps have the power to transform selling and give innovative retailers the edge.

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