Even with the current retail challenges of store closures and the growth of online shopping, survey after survey reveals that shoppers still want an in-store experience. The “experience” is what retailers are truly focusing on, whether it be a retailer such as Bonobos which has opened physical stores or the show-rooming concept that Restoration Hardware has embraced. Companies that are offering customer engagement at the highest level need their sales associates to be brand ambassadors. That means knowing more than the savvy shopper about products and being aware of brand perception even on social media.

In his March 5 column, “Think Tank: Hourly Worker, Brand Warrior, the New Battle for Frontline Talent,” Matt MacInnis argues that the time has come for retailers to invest in their staff to deliver a winning customer experience – and he couldn’t be more spot on. However, he ends his article arguing for the all-too-tempting cost-cutting measure — instead of investing — asking your front line associates to use their own devices, arguing, “This is what happens when customers are more important than lawyers.”

David Harouche

David Harouche  Courtesy image.

The challenge today is that only those retailers who invest in effective associate training and evaluation strategies, and in providing up-to-the minute, on-floor communications can keep their employees one step ahead of today’s demanding, tech-savvy consumers. Providing both enterprise class hardware and software may be an expense, but it will create a long-term cost savings from doing things correctly without having the negative effect of compromised security, productivity and consistency – not to mention maintaining a professional appearance to your customer.

Is the risk worth the reward?

It’s not just the attorneys who retailers need to listen to — it’s store operations, HR, loss prevention and the IT department. A Tech Pro Research survey found that 76 percent of the 259 IT professionals polled said their companies allow staff to use their own devices. Yet only 30 percent said their IT departments support these devices.

Here are some additional issues to resolve:

  • Is my IT department equipped to track BYOD [bring your own device] behavior — and handle an associated data breach?
  • Does each device have enough storage to run my BYOD app? If not, who pays to increase it?
  • How do we remove private information from an employee’s device once off the payroll?
  • Who pays for work-related data usage, and how is it accurately measured?
  • If non-exempt employees use their devices at 
home for work-related activities, does the time accumulated put us in danger of violating work- and-hour issues addressed by the Fair Labor Standards Act?
  • Who’s responsible for the device if broken, lost or stolen while in the store?
  • Will today’s Gen Y be able to resist the most recent Snapchat and Instagram posts or urgent text from their friends?…and will your customer think that’s what they’re doing on their personal device anyway?

These are just a few of the issues companies need to consider when deciding what an associate using their personal device means to the in-store experience.

The real answer to all of these questions is that it’s all about comfort level — around an associate using their personal device compared to an enterprise device with an App that is PCI compliant, optimized to minimize bandwidth impact on the network and can run on the store’s same secure network as it’s POS.

Experts weigh in on security

According to HRTechnologist, a personal device policy may not be safe and secure for company data. The HR website reported that in a recent survey by Robert Half, “36% of CIOs considered a lack of employee knowledge and skills around data security as the most significant security risk for their business. In view of this grim security outlook, 97% of CIOs are looking at new ways to secure their company from data breaches. But how does one essentially manage the need for employee flexibility [BYOD] with the need for control?”

Maybe the cost savings are not worth the risk. Robert Half goes on to say, “However, there is a flipside to the BYOD work culture — these personal devices are not necessarily embedded with security mechanisms. Once connected to the office network, they can access critical company data, and act as a sitting channel for miscreants to access valuable corporate information. Imagine a scenario where a work email is hacked through a personal mobile device, and critical client information is stolen and sold to competition. Millions of dollar’s worth data is at stake, not to mention the hit to the brand.”

The talk is the tablet

The reality is that tablets are where mobile POS and other more modern digital retail solutions are designed to excel, not someone’s cell phone that can be two or more years old.

The tablet use keeps on growing, and is getting cheaper. According to an August 2017 article by, Apple sold 11.4 million iPads in a single quarter, which is up from 15 percent over last year. This represents more than two million more than expected by analysts. In a 2017 earnings call, Apple revealed that Walmart will be deploying more than 19,000 iPads for employee training across 50 states, and that over 225,000 associates will have been trained via the iPad by the end of that year.

Wise retailers like Walmart recognize that consumers will continue to take greater control of how, where, why and when purchases take place. As such, the on-floor, customer-facing retail associate — who directly and dramatically impacts the customer experience — needs access to secure, sophisticated, powerful and consistent technology tools, such as the network-secured, corporate-issued tablet.

Especially in retail, mobile technology is king, whether for mobile wallets and checkout, price and inventory lookup, bar code scanning, customer service, direct messaging, training and communications, and much more. Today’s tablet serves as the hub for a connected shopping experience. So while it was once unusual to encounter a sales associate impressively armed with an iPad, today it’s the norm, and reasonably so: Using tablets on the retail floor advances how well associates can improve customer experiences — again, the Holy Grail — and helps improve the bottom line.

Communication and training via an enterprise-grade mobile Associate Communication Platform solution such as Incite that is designed for mobile POS, is PCI-compliant and delivers proprietary, non-streaming video — allows associates to continuously train in-between customers and stay one click ahead of the customer.

Time will tell if retailers will truly embrace Bring Your Own Device. In today’s cutthroat and competitive retail environment that has been plagued with customer and corporate security breaches, our bet is that the tablet will be king and personal devices will move off-line.

Dave Harouche is founder, chief executive officer and chief technology officer of Multimedia Plus, a mobile associate communication platform provider.

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