Magazine Article | August 21, 2012

Tablets Can Unlock True Omni-Channel Inventory Systems

Source: Innovative Retail Technologies

September 2012 Integrated Solutions For Retailers

By Ed McCabe, national sales manager, Panasonic Solutions for Business

Retailers must equip associates with technology to be able to service customers properly.

In stores across America every day, there is a war of information going on — and it’s not much of a fair fight. Customers, armed with the latest smartphone or tablet computer, have the ability to walk around the sales floor with nearly unlimited access not just to information about products, but a multitude of ways of purchasing the item and taking it home. They may buy it there, buy it online, have it shipped to them, or pick it up in person.

Store associates are not nearly as well-armed. Associates often must leave the customer’s side — potentially abandoning the sale — to access computers from a back office or behind a counter. And, the computers themselves may not have the real-time, seamless integration across channels that customers expect.

Rapid innovations in technology mean customers today expect what they want, when they want it, with no compromises. Some retailers are closer to meeting this demand than others, but each of them still struggles to provide what can be called a true omni-channel experience.

However, there is a secret weapon out there. Mobile devices, such as tablet computers, are available today built to meet the challenges of retail management, among them cross-channel inventory management. By equipping your team with enterprise tablets, you can win the battle of multichannel retailing.

Cross-Channel Inventory — Challenge And Solution

To the customer, your brand, whether online or brick-and-mortar, is one and the same. However, for many retailers, this is not necessarily the case. One of the biggest differences can be in inventory management, with the online arm of the business sometimes completely separate in this respect from the retail arm. Integrating the many channels means implementing new systems and tools that ensure everyone across every channel has the same visibility, insights, and power to meet the customer’s needs.

Tablet computers can help create a seamlessly integrated crosschannel inventory system that can be updated in real time. Associates can be armed right on the sales floor with the same live data as the computer in the back office or the e-commerce inventory system. Without leaving the customer’s side, your employees can see what is in stock across every channel of your organization, make a sale, schedule a delivery, or place an item on back order. Behind the scenes, inventory at each store can be integrated in real time with that of other locations and channels. Retailers and customers now have access to the true omni-channel experience we’ve seen on the horizon for years.

While tablet computers have been around for years, ones with this capability have not. A retail store can be a harsh environment for a tablet device, as many employees and customers handle the device throughout the day and may not use the same care as they would with their personal devices. Retailers today have choices beyond ill-equipped consumer devices, with tablets built for business use featuring faster processors, more storage capacity, the ability to integrate bar code scanners and RFID readers, and rugged durability. Enterprise-grade security is also necessary to protect both customer and company data. Mobile device management software will allow IT managers to distribute applications to various devices from a single console, prevent unauthorized use, and track remote devices for theft/LP.

Providing a true omni-channel experience for customers is an uphill battle, but it helps to have the right artillery. With technology such as tablet computers, your sales associates can overcome the challenge of inventory management to get customers what they want, when they want it.

Ed McCabe is the national sales manager for Panasonic Solutions for Business. He can be reached at