The retail industry is one that lives and dies on margins, with managers on a never-ending quest to increase revenue and decrease costs. Technology has been an area of intense focus in retail industries as a way to accomplish both goals. Improvements have been made in areas such as supply chain management, inventory management, customer experience, and loss prevention. Wireless technology, permitting communication between people and devices anywhere and without cables, has enabled the dramatic transformation of business processes in the past, and continues to do so. However, wireless deployments in the past have been limited by security requirements, the cost of deployment, inadequate management solutions, lack of standards, and availability of innovative solutions. Rapid advances in wireless local area network (WLAN) technology in recent years along with widespread adoption of the technology in the consumer and enterprise space have eliminated many of these roadblocks. Today, a new wave of opportunity exists for retail industries to improve margins through the use of wireless technology. This white paper discusses the applications for this technology, the security requirements in a retail environment, and considerations when selecting the right architecture for mobile network deployments.
Retail Applications for Mobility
In the general enterprise market, wireless LANs are being adopted primarily as part of the networking infrastructure, to support standard desktop applications such as email, web browsing, file server access, and other conventional enterprise applications. In the retail industry, wireless LANs are deployed to support much more specific and innovative applications, with a focus on either improving existing processes or adding new ones.
Point-of-Sale (POS) is the physical location where goods are sold to customers. Traditionally, this was a counter where a cash register was located. Customers would line up in front of the counter and wait for their turn. Sales counters are a fixed size, however, and can support a fixed number of people. Increasing the size of the sales counter is not possible, so customers are forced to endure long lines during congested periods such as holidays. Studies show that as many as one in ten customers will abandon the line while waiting, leaving the store without making a purchase. Long lines also engender ill will from customers, making them less likely to return to a store in the future. Wireless LAN technology can help in two major ways: Fully mobile point-of-sale stations can be set up using handheld computers, scanners, and printers with integrated credit card readers. During high-volume sales periods, salespeople outfitted with these mobile POS terminals can be positioned throughout a store at small tables.
Technology Advances in Retail
For customers paying by credit card, the full transaction can be completed and a store receipt printed where it is convenient for the customer. Clearly, strong security is a requirement from the network when credit card transactions are involved. A later section in this white paper will discuss security requirements in much more detail. Mobile “line busting” personnel can move through checkout lines with handheld computers to accelerate the checkout process. The sales staff can use their own judgment in processing each transaction. For credit card customers with a small amount of merchandise, the entire transaction may be completed while the customer is still in line. For other customers, merchandise can be scanned with a barcode scanner and a ticket printed with prices and a master barcode on it. While waiting in line, the customer has the chance to review prices printed on the ticket. Upon reaching the checkout counter, the ticket is scanned, the total amount is recalled from a backend system,...