Smartphone wielding customers are changing the rules of the retail game. In recent times, brick-and-mortar retailers have been frustrated by the growing numbers of shoppers walking into their stores to check out products physically and then going online to competitor sites to buy the same products at cheaper rates. The practice, quite rampant in the retail industry, has earned a name for itself – ‘showrooming’.
Leading retailers like Best Buy and Walgreens deployed mobile Business Intelligence (BI) enabled tablets on their store floors to provide store associates with the same ammunition that shoppers possess with smartphones, and to prevent their stores from becoming product showrooms.
So the next time a customer requests for information on a specific model, pack size or colour variant, your staff can pull up information on their tablet devices without having to make a couple of trips to the backroom or innumerable calls to the warehouse. By accessing Business Intelligence on their tablets, whether based on Apple, Google or Android platforms, store associates can take orders, offer best deals, complete transactions, save a sale or check on inventory status – all in real time.
Mobile Business Intelligence in Retail – An Overview
The Mobile Business Intelligence Market Study (2011) by Dresner Advisory Services indicates that the shift toward mobile BI is universal and will ‘affect all industries and have as much impact as the Internet did’, over time. About 68% of companies surveyed in the study considered mobile BI as “critical” or “very important” to their business versus 52% in 2010. Those indicating mobile BI as unimportant declined from 11% to only 2% in 2011.
Mobile BI is gaining relevance in healthcare, government departments, manufacturing and wholesale sectors. But the number one vertical for Mobile BI according to Dresner is retail. Widely deployed in retail operations with a multi-country presence, mobile analytics is offering agile decision support, speedy ROI and substantial efficiency gains to many global retail chains.
One of the mobile BI modules at leading clothing retailer Guess enables its inventory buyers to access real-time analysis of sales trends on their iPads with data, graphics, photos and GPS information about individual products, stores and regions. They can further drill into the data to see forecasts, goals and historical trends before they make merchandise buying decisions for the retail chain.
Starbucks’ workforce can now take actions based on real-time Business Intelligence and ensures that all outlets have adequate supplies and are performing to plan. The coffee chain uses a mobile BI platform that its executives use during location visits to connect to the chain’s back-end operations, allowing them to interact with these systems in real-time from their mobile devices.
BI Mobility: An Explosion of Mobile Device Types and Platforms
In the initial years of its introduction, the idea of mobile analytics did not gain much ground largely because of the limitations of device hardware. Large and unwieldy reports accessed on small mobile phone screens ended up frustrating users more than helping them. There was very little scope for interactivity, customization or drilling down into relevant data delivered on mobile phones.
Smartphones and tablets, with their large screens and touch screen capabilities, are changing this. These include the latest Apple iPad 2.0, numerous Android tablets (e.g. Samsung Galaxy, Motorola Xoom), Windows 7 Phone and RIM’s Playbook Tablet. Dresner reports that the iPhone is the most well-established platform for mobile BI with the iPad quickly gaining ground. Android also appears to be growing substantially while both RIM Blackberry and Windows phones are less in use.
With the phenomenal uptake in Apple’s iPhone and the iPad, newer devices and better mobile platforms emerging, the mobility race is truly on. About 33% of surveyed organizations expect to deliver Mobile BI to over 40% of their workforce within the next two years. The number of users who will consume BI exclusively on mobile devices is also set to rise dramatically over this period.
Applications must offer users the opportunity to interact with BI content delivered to their mobile devices. Gartner in its 2011 Magic Quadrant for Business Intelligence Platforms reinforces the importance of interactivity in Mobile BI platforms. Users must be able to drill down into specific details, navigate through dashboards and guided analytics and get to the exact information they require; when and where they need it – all on their handheld device.
The latest Mobile BI applications from top of the line BI vendors transform business information into interactive dashboard-style analytics supported by multiple mobile devices. The high level of interactivity these applications offer is further enhanced by advanced touch screen capabilities that allow drill down, filtering, zooming, panning, sorting and pivoting of data. They allow users to add thresholds, aggregate and compute as well as put together customized dashboards for their use.
The traditional view of the Mobile BI consumer as a jet setting CEO, CFO or a middle management employee of an organization is rapidly changing. More and more organizations are seeing the value in providing contextually relevant information and Business Intelligence to front-line staff and operational employees at the point of decision-making. Sales teams, a field staff, service professionals and store floor employees are now becoming vital users of mobile BI as they require real-time information on a wide range of issues such as inventory availability, production times, offers, pricing and pipelines to conduct their interactions with customers effectively.
Retail scenarios of mobile BI usage:
Improved customer service: For once, store executives can actually stay on the store floor with customers, using Mobile BI. They can pull up information on product availability, features, price and real-time offers and engage with in-store customers intelligently without having to leave their side.
Prevent stock-outs: Mobile BI deployed to their hand-held devices can help Store Managers scan product barcodes, check for sufficient inventory backroom, flag for sales-floor replenishment and assign task to staff.
Executing price changes: Price changes and offers sometimes that do not get updated in POS systems and price tags can cause confusion. Store managers can deal with these discrepancies by pulling up the latest price information in real time on mobile BI applications and assigning staff to resolve and update it.
Execution compliance of planograms and store layout: Store managers can pull up real-time information on assortment, planograms, gondolas, window displays, presentation, price highlights and promotional signage and ensure that these comply with standards.
Monitor store-wide promotions: Mobile BI can alert and notify sales and campaign managers on upcoming and current promotions, enabling them to get stocks and stores ready in time for the promotion. Category managers can pull up sales figures of promoted products and check how they are doing against forecast as well as store-wise Manage staff schedules: Store managers can reschedule staff timings and reassign the workforce to balance with peak customer traffic in the store and monitor store performance post the changes.
Mobile Analytics – Industry Challenges
Mobile phones are most often personally owned devices and range from iPhones, iPads, Androids and smartphones to tablet PCs, BlackBerry and a host of other hand held products available in the market. With no scope to control their employees’ choice of gadgets or the applications and operating systems on them, businesses have to focus on investing in applications that are compatible with the entire range of heterogeneous hand held devices in use giving all employees the benefit of ‘analytics on the go’.
There is widespread concern over the management and security of corporate information and data assets delivered onto mobile devices. Research indicates that most organizations are reluctant to store sensitive data on mobile devices and prefer to have it on the company Enterprises need to build Advanced Mobile Data Management (MDM) software to manage the heterogeneous portfolio of devices and operating systems as well as address security concerns associated with Mobile BI.
Mobile BI offers new possibilities to bring informed answers right to the spot where people are asking questions. With its capabilities for agile responses to rapid changes in customer demand and market trends and enabling analysis and decision-making on the go, mobile BI is driving an all new way of doing business and competing in today’s retail industry.