While many technological changes have occurred in retail over the past decade, one thing that has remained pretty static is the traditional handheld bar code scanner. That is, until now. In the warehouse, back office, and on the store floor, many retailers are no longer investing in expensive scanners to manage inventory and purchasing, but instead are introducing smartphone-based bar code scanning systems.
The real advantage of these systems to retailers is that the software enabling bar code scanning on smartphones and other mobile devices is now so sophisticated that it can deliver enterprise-grade scan performance while making it possible to streamline business processes, reduce hardware and labor costs, and empower retail staff and customers. The bottom line is that retailers leveraging this functionality via mobile apps are reaping financial and strategic rewards.
There are many examples of how mobile bar code scanning can benefit retailers, both internally and customer-facing. Let's take a look at benefits it can deliver with regard to customer service and engagement:
Imagine a shopping experience where every store clerk is fully armed with information about every item available in the store. Does the customer want a dress or pair of pants in a different color? Easy: The associate just scans the bar code of the item and instantly accesses the options available in the storeroom without wasting time or losing the sale. Retailers can lose a lot of revenue each day due to poor customer experiences, resulting in the brick-and-mortar equivalent of shopping cart abandonment. Intelligent clienteling apps allow associates to self-scan items from any smartphone or tablet, which helps them provide responsive and informative customer service. Retailers can further benefit by offering this increased level of consultation through the bring-your-own-device model, with sales associates downloading the software directly onto their own mobile devices.
Mobile Point of Sale
Dedicated, traditional hardware-based point-of-sale systems are costly and take up valuable space in-store. For smaller retailers and larger chains that want a more innovative, visually appealing, and competitive solution, software-based, enterprise-grade bar code scanning technology, as part of a smartphone or tablet-based mobile point-of-sale system, can dramatically lower costs and maximize opportunities to help customers pay quickly and efficiently—no more long waits in line.
Self-Scanning and Self-Checkout
Customers who use their smartphones or tablets to scan products as they shop enjoy an experience personalized to their needs. They can then check out on their own through self-checkout, using their device, rather than having to wait in line or waste time removing and replacing items in their cart that could have been scanned immediately upon removal from the shelf. In addition, rather than allocating valuable aisle space to multiple self-checkouts, retailers need only provide a single self-checkout kiosk that tallies up the total of self-scanned items or support an app with mobile payments built in. They can also reduce checkout staff costs or redeploy staff to provide increased levels of service to customers. Most importantly, once a customer has downloaded and installed a self-scanning/checkout app, the retailer benefits from a real-time, two-way communication channel with that customer, opening up powerful marketing and engagement possibilities.
Mobile Shopping and Loyalty
Retailers can also offer mobile apps with bar code scanning functionality that enables their customers to scan bar codes of selected products in-store and receive discounts, coupons, and loyalty rewards program points. Retailers can offer print advertisements with bar codes as well, empowering consumers to scan them from their living room or while they are out and about to make a shopping list for a future visit to the store, secure a coupon, and/or purchase the product directly from their mobile device—driving consumer engagement and sales.
Retailers can easily capitalize on the mobile trend by offering apps with bar code scanning functionality to both staff and customers, helping to extend the mobile channel, deliver value-added features to customers, bolster customer service and engagement, and, as a result, strengthen their own bottom line. With mobile bar code scanning, retailers can not only enable their businesses to operate more efficiently and effectively, but also create reasons for customers to want to purchase from them.
Samuel Mueller is cofounder and CEO of Scandit, developer of a software-based bar code scanning and data capture platform for smartphones, tablets, and wearable computing devices.