Wavelink Blog

Tag: retail

High Speed Retail: The Consumer Side of Productivity

I spend a lot of time discussing the demands of supply chain businesses and the technology at work to help them be more productive. Last month, I had the honor of seeing a related article included in The Point of Sale News.  Shortly after the article was in circulation, I began thinking about the efficiencies we appreciate from the consumer side of the retail experience.  I reflected on several of these in a blog post last Winter, but one plays such a role for me, and many other shoppers, throughout the year: Self-Checkout.

Just as we like to get product shipped to us fast from online channels (and who doesn’t love getting a ground shipment in less than 5 days?) we like to shop and not stand in long lines for checkout. I love self-checkout because it’s fast.  And if you’re reading this, you’re likely in the supply chain and know how to work a barcode scanner – making us a breed that is faster than most consumers at the self-checkout line.

Retail checkout lanes get crowded during peak hours.

Consumers flood retail checkout lanes.

It makes sense that self-checkout delivers a faster experience. Often, stores limit self-checkout lanes to small quantities of goods (the “10 items or less” lanes). If you’re buying a large cart of groceries, you’re probably not in the same kind of hurry as someone who rushes in to grab a few quick items.  I spoke with the front-end manager of one of my local grocery stores to ask about the self-checkout experience, and captured a few cool notes.

  • People who use self-checkout are generally more prepared for the transaction. Not just the payment experience, but overall, they’re more comfortable with technology – even to the point of placing items in their shopping cart barcode up for rapid scanning. Confession: I do this every time.
  • Theft (shrinkage) is the biggest challenge to self-checkout (no surprise, here). However, theft prevention is a main reason why self-checkout works on the “10 items or less” line. It’s much easier to spot items in the cart (and count them). If you’ve ever been called out for having more than 10 items when using that line, that’s the reason. It’s not because the two additional items you are ringing up slow everyone down much (though courtesy never goes out of style). Someone is counting what’s in your cart and too many items makes it more difficult to get an accurate count.
  • Space matters. In this particular store, four self-checkout units took the place of two traditional checkout lanes. This setup makes sense not just in the grocery store, but it works for many of the other retail stores I visit all the time, such as my hardware store.

Looking at these points from both the consumer and industry side, it’s really interesting to realize how such tech can be a real win-win for both the consumer and the retailer. Bottom line: businesses move product through the supply chain with an ongoing quest for faster movement of goods, increased productivity from their workers and overall operational efficiency.  We, as consumers, are often looking for the same in that last piece of the supply chain.  Self-checkout is certainly one of the cool technologies making the retail shopping experience a positive one!

Three easy ways to tell if Speakeasy can help you optimize worker productivity in your warehouse

In this brief, I am going to tell you three signs that you can easily spot that will tell you if you can optimize your warehouse or distribution center operations. I am going to make an assumption here that you are already using a terminal emulation or browser based materials management system. I don’t care which one, just that it is based on Telnet (TE) or a browser. Wavelink can easily and quickly enable voice for almost any of those in the market today. It can be a WMS, ERP, CRM, or any other system that drives your workers and allows them to feed work information into as they do their job.

  1. First, watch your workers. If they are frequently stopping to read their paper or the display on their mobile computer/scanning device, then you can likely reduce the amount of time it takes for them to do their job. The more they stop, the more you can easily improve it. The device display is still critical because it can contain so much information vital to competing the task or be used in configuring and troubleshooting, but if workers are often stopping to read we can help. Tasks assignment and reminders can be spoken to the worker allowing them to continue moving toward their goal as they listen.
  2. Next, does it take a long time to bring people on board in your operation? Is most of the time spent trying to explain what all the parts and exceptions are, and Speakeasy in Actionare those already in your IT systems you use to collect data as they work? If the answer is yes to either of those, then Speakeasy can likely help you improve productivity. It has the ability to break the task down to small explainable parts. Workers can ask the system to repeat commands, locations, and data sent to them by the host that is required to do their job. Workers who formerly went through three-day training sessions now are frequently productive workers in less than a half day of job training. The end time depends on your processes and automation but we almost always can reduce this time.
  3. Finally, are your workers more productive when they have both hands free to work? Headsets and ring scanners attached to mobile computers allow workers to dive in with both hands and optimizes worker productivity. As a benefit this reduces lost and broken devices as workers are not setting them down to do the work before recording and updating systems with their work in process or completed tasks.

Don’t take my word for it, watch the customer Goya Foods and Coleman Cable testimonial videos on www.wavelink.com/voice.

In and Out: The Pros and Cons of Self-Checkout

Retailers, breathe a sigh of relief. Black Friday is over and Cyber Monday orders have all been placed. The initial rush is over. But the holiday shopping season is just beginning. There’s another three weeks’ worth of time for shopping (or procrastination of shopping) before the season ends.  During those three weeks, more shoppers than ever will make their purchases on non-traditional POS systems. These systems will range from self-checkout kiosks to “scan as you go” services to mobile-based systems carried throughout the store by employees for a “check out anywhere” experience. There are pros and cons to each of these systems (and to traditional POS systems as well), but let’s start with a look at self-checkout services.

Self-checkout services are becoming increasingly common. Hardware retailer (and popular store for Dad gifts) Home Depot was one of the first stores to implement self-Self_checkout_using_NCR_Fastlane_machinesservice checkout kiosks, but other retailers have followed, including grocery store giants Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club. Others have implemented self-checkout and then scraped it, including Costco, Albertsons and Ikea. It’s definitely not right for every retailer, but can have big benefits.

Cutting Costs

One of the major arguments for self-checkout is that it reduces overhead costs. Instead of having four cashiers manning four checkout lanes, one cashier can monitor four checkout lanes. Alternatively, the cashier can be cut out entirely. Either way, costs are reduced.

However, there’s a pretty big “but” with this. Self-checkout can cut down costs, but can also increase theft. Earlier this year, a Florida woman was caught trying to leave the store with $350 worth of products, for which she had paid $40. There’s no denying that self-checkout can create opportunities for thieves, but with careful monitoring by employees, the threat can be reduced. The benefit in costs savings may not be enough for some retailers, so it’s important to weigh the pros and cons of cutting down overhead vs. preventing theft.

People Like It. Some of Them, Anyway

A recent Cisco survey found that 52 percent of people prefer self-checkout. That also means that 48 percent of people don’t like self-checkout. While some shoppers prefer the DIY aspect of self-checkout, combined with the appeal of avoiding talking to other people, other shoppers enjoy the interpersonal interaction that comes with a traditional POS system or find the kiosks frustrating or difficult to use. Before implementing a self-checkout system, it’s important to determine where your customer base falls. If you determine that your customers are primarily in the “pro” camp, it’s equally important to ensure that the system you choose is easy to use, practical for your business model and won’t frustrate your customers. Even the staunchest of pro-self-checkout consumers will avoid a bad system.

It’s a “Gateway” Change

Still other retailers see self-checkout as the gateway to further change – a precursor of sorts to the days when you’ll be able to scan objects with your phone as you shop and then pay using a mobile wallet. The change to self-checkout could get consumers acclimated to the self-service idea quickly and easily.

Of course, it’s also an expensive proposition to install self-service kiosks at check out. And it’s even more expensive to move away from the system in favor of another one after just a few years. Before implementing this sort of system, consider carefully what you think is the future of checkout for retailers. Cutting edge is good, but cutting unnecessary changes is better.

The Last Days for Point Products

Mobility has been a part of the enterprise for three decades now. However, the ubiquity of mobile use for workers from the warehouse to the corporate office has never been more dynamic. Many companies are not implementing first-time deployments, but replacing older solutions with new, and expanding mobility to a wider range of tasks.

As this wave of mobility refreshes occurs, enterprises are looking for simplicity in their deployments. Hardware options are vast and dynamic. It is hardly feasible to have a single mobile computing platform for all enterprise users. On the software side, point products for a specific task are no longer the most desirable option. Instead, IT teams across businesses demand fewer vendors with more unified solutions that scale across mission-critical applications.connections

Mission-critical mobility is all about productivity—getting things done in the most efficient way possible. This can be visible in such ways as streamlining current worker tasks, or accelerating decision making. As these examples suggest, enterprise mobility is not about which device is best or how that device in managed. It’s not about the content a user can access or a specific software application used on a device. Instead, enterprise mobility is about implementing all these components to deliver maximized user productivity.

Mobility solutions are becoming strategic for businesses. A reactive, “quick fix” for a narrow, specific task is no longer proving to be beneficial for long-term business performance. Point products and their disconnected support are proving to be too costly and are not designed for the entire enterprise.  Instead, a unified mobility strategy is desired; offering a faster, easily quantifiable ROI, seamless implementation, and a long-term strategic solution for mission-critical enterprise mobility.

I invite you to sign up for one of our webinars, where you can learn more.

The History of Voice: From Audrey to Siri

Check Out Our Speech Infographic

Here at Wavelink, we’ve always had a special place in our hearts for speech recognition. It’s hardly surprising. We know first-hand the many benefits of voice recognition in the warehouse – improved productivity, efficiency and warehouse safety. Since the introduction of Speakeasy six years ago, we’ve watched the rise of applications like Siri and Google Voice, which bring voice recognition to the masses. We thought it would be interesting to take a look back in time at some of the history of voice recognition and how it’s evolved over time.

Check Out Our Speech Infographic

Check Out Our Speech Infographic

Audrey

Before Siri, there was Audrey. Audrey was a speech recognition system developed by Bell Laboratories in the early 1950s. It was a pretty basic system and could only recognize the numbers one through nine. It also forced the speaker to pause between words, making it a bit cumbersome to actually use.

In the early 1960s, IBM made some improvements with their “Shoebox” device, which could understand 16 entire words: 10 digits and 6 arithmetical commands. Both Audrey and Shoebox, needless to say, were not very portable, making them highly impractical by today’s standards. Considering the low levels of computing power at the time, these were pretty significant gains. (more…)

Android in the Warehouse

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The Android platform is rapidly growing. According to recent estimates from analyst firm IDC, Android had 75 percent market share in Q1 of 2013, shipping more than 163 million smartphones during that time. While IDC doesn’t break down how many of those were shipped to consumers vs. enterprises, it wouldn’t surprise us to learn that a big portion of those devices are being used in ruggedized environments.

After all, the Android platform is a good fit for specialized environments like the warehouse. David Johnson of analyst firm Forrester recently told Network World that Android devices were now being considered for a whole host of non-consumer applications, “from movie ticket scanning at the theater front door, to electronic on-board recorders (EOBR) for truckers.”  The Android platform is flexible enough to support specialty devices and applications, unlike iOS devices, which only run on Apple products. It can also be difficult to create new applications for iOS, because of the closed nature of the system. Android, on the other hand, offers more flexibility in designing and publishing new applications and has worked hard to improve the security features of the platform to make it more suitable for business users.

There are also plenty of ruggedized devices that run Android, including devices made by Motorola, Panasonic, Samsung, Honeywell and more. In fact, just last week, Samsung announced their newest ruggedized Android: the Samsung Galaxy S4 Active. Samsung is the leading provider of Android devices, owning 41.1 percent of the market, according to IDC. Though much of the marketing for the ruggedized Galaxy S4 Active has targeted those who lead an active lifestyle (hence the name), its ruggedized features make it a good fit for the warehouse. The Galaxy S4 is sealed against both dust and water and can be operated while wearing gloves.

All this combines to make Android a great option for ruggedized environments – or even the not-so-rugged, such as the retail floor or mobile POS system. As it continues to grow in popularity among consumers, it might spur a stronger push for BYOD in the warehouse, which has not traditionally been a BYOD environment. However, according to Forrester, 37 percent of smartphones used in the enterprise run Android. Eventually, that may push into the warehouse as well.

Mobilizing the Warehouse – Where You Can Expect to Save

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Let’s say you work in a 500,000-square foot warehouse. You’re picking from one side of the four walls and replenishing in another, and you’re constantly moving about a building that might be 250 times the size of your home. It’s not hard to see where mobile can come in handy in terms of making your trips to opposite ends of the warehouse more worthwhile, but you’ll need a better business case than that if you’re hoping for handhelds instead of laptops.federatedphoto

First, the overall benefits:

  • Improved TCO – Adopting mobile can reduce the money spent on the device itself and its management. Those laptops will probably have life in your warehouse for a few years, tops, depending on the environment. While there is plenty of hardware out there to withstand harsh conditions, exposure to water, dust, harmful particles, etc., will play a factor in your systems’ life expectancy.  While mobile devices have similar life expectancies, they are usually much cheaper and in many cases, even easier and less costly to manage.
  • Productivity gains: While productivity might be harder to measure than device costs, thiscould save you hundreds of thousands. If your organization is able to save 30 minutes per shift with quicker access to important data, that could amount to a one-year productivity gain of half a million dollars (of course, this depends on the size of your organization).  Another productivity value add for deploying mobile rather than refreshing your current laptop supply is an easy, clean interface from which your employees can use custom-built applications and have quick access to important documents such as manuals, reports, equipment specs, etc.

The everyday tasks mobile will improve:

With these overall benefits in mind, there are specific tasks that mobile will help you streamline to get there, helping you realize the improved productivity and TCO. Using mobile in tandem with warehouse management software (especially voice-enabled) will earn you better accuracy, efficiency and even safety. A good management system will also give you better insight into your inventory and what you might need to refresh, put away or verify. With business-enabling applications and easy scanning capabilities, you can also capture new inventory as soon as you get it. This makes your products sellable, faster.

If you’re still using laptops in your warehouse, or you’re still looking to mobilize certain parts, a better knowledge of where your product is or even what the product is will give you more to work with – more time, more sellable product and ultimately, more money.

The World’s Foremost Mobile Application Management Company

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The following comes from Jason Mitchell, Director of Engineering at LANDesk.

This blog has an ambitious title, but I think it is accurate. Let me explain why. The recent definition of Mobile Application Management (MAM) focuses on delivering and securing native apps on mobile devices. These features typically include app wrapping and app distribution. While that’s as extensive as many smart device operation systems allow, Wavelink has a far more comprehensive and compelling feature set.

For more than 20 years, Wavelink has developed products and technologies that have enabled companies to deliver their operational applications to the ever-evolving set of mobile devices that are optimally designed for the task at hand. Let me give an example.

For high transaction processes like picking or sorting in a supply chain logistics operations, companies have host-based applications that need to be displayed on a variety of mobile devices. They do not want to have to add custom logic to the application to handle the different form factors or device drivers needed to access peripherals such as bar code scanners, radios, or printers. This is the market where Wavelink application management solutions exist. The solutions are built for telnet based applications, web applications, and native console applications executing on the server. They take these applications and expose them on any mobile device taking into account form factors, driver integration, security, session persistence, latency, unstable wireless networks, and a variety of others issues the application developer doesn’t want to know about and certainty doesn’t want to handle differently for each device. Wavelink solutions are designed to handle these problems without modifying the original application. This enabling of applications across the mobile devices is unique to the MAM solution Wavelink provides.

In summary, a comprehensive Mobile Application Management solution needs to deliver, secure, and enable applications across any mobile device platform or form factor without modifying the original application. This is why Wavelink is the world’s foremost Mobile Application Management Company.

What Eric Schmidt Can Learn from Warehouse Employees – Get Used to Talking to A Device

Google GlassesSince the introduction of Siri on the iPhone4 in 2011, voice recognition technology has become more mainstream than ever. However, that doesn’t mean that people have become any more accustomed to speaking to their technology. The process can be somewhat unsettling and even technologists themselves think so. According to Reuters, Google CEO Eric Schmidt recently stated that talking to Google Glass was “the weirdest thing.” In fact, Saturday Night Live recently poked fun at Google Glass and how awkward it can be to talk to a device on your face.

Voice recognition can be a bit strange at first but warehouse workers have been doing it for years.  Voice in the warehouse can dramatically improve safety by allowing workers to work in a hands and eyes-free environment. It also delivers 99 percent accuracy and at least a 10 percent improvement in productivity to warehouse applications such as data-entry, picking and processing. Though voice applications in today’s warehouse resemble an operator headset, it would make sense for future devices to resemble (or actually be) Google Glass.

Though at a $1,500 price point, Google’s first-to-market product isn’t exactly price friendly to many businesses. That said one of the first voice recognition products for the consumer market, Dragon Dictate, originally retailed for $9,000!

Speakeasy in Action

Speakeasy in Action

While prices for wearable’s like Google Glass are sure to drop as the technology becomes more mainstream, will talking to a device ever feel completely normal? In the late 20th century, being tethered to a phone all day every day never seemed plausible either, but with the rise of smartphones, that is our new reality. Only time will tell as to whether or not voice recognition devices will become the new norm. In the meantime, just ask any warehouse employee – they’ll tell you it’s all in a day’s work.

Terminal Emulation: Productivity Never Goes Out of Style

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The following comes from Rob DeStefano, Product Marketing Manager:

Most people fondly remember their first Windows PC. If yours was like mine, it had a floppy disk drive for expandable memory.  We laugh at the portable phone Michael Douglas used in the movie “Wall Street.”  Remember the original Nintendo gaming console? A big evolution to the Wii series currently connected to your television.

There is a common theme here among these items: The hardware has evolved, but the use cases and core functionalities have remained the same.  When technology works and is widely adopted, its demise is predicted for many years but what usually happens is that users prefer to see it evolve rather than disappear.

Windows has come a long way since my first exposure to Windows 3.1.  My iPhone, a far more advanced (and thankfully, pocket-able) cell phone than those from the 1980’s; and my Wii is most commonly used to play the games from the old systems that kept me busy for way too many hours as a kid.  The hardware has changed, but the change in my user experience has been gradual, and still very familiar at its core.

The same is true for task workers using enterprise applications.  Mobile computers, including the devices used in warehouses, on retail floors and throughout the supply chain, have changed significantly over the past two decades.  Today, the term “mobile computer” includes consumer devices like tablets and smartphones in certain use cases.  However, as the hardware has changed, core software applications have progressively evolved to keep the user experience familiar and comfortable – ensuring optimal productivity.

Terminal Emulation remains a prime example of software evolution as the hardware on which it operates has morphed so dramatically.  What is it that keeps Terminal Emulation around and growing?  It is still the most efficient and cost effective method for high volume, enterprise-grade data input. Despite the “green screen” user interface, there are 5 reasons TE remains so widely used:

  1. Terminal Emulation works.  Over two decades of market use prove its stability.
  2. It’s widely adopted.  Internal estimates suggest roughly 68% of rugged mobile computers run Wavelink TE.
  3. It has evolved. Terminal Emulation ran on DOS, Palm OS, Windows PocketPC. Today it runs on today’s Windows Mobile and Android operating systems. It has also evolved with leading back-end software.
  4. Terminal Emulation enables productivity. Task workers are familiar and can easily work with it.
  5. Terminal Emulation remains innovative.  Wavelink continues to invest in new features that increase its accessibility, including Speakeasy, which voice-enables existing Terminal Emulation applications.

Terminal Emulation remains the platform of choice for many enterprise applications in part because it has been with us for so long that it is the standard-bearer against which any potential alternative would have to measure – in terms of cost and productivity.  Wavelink TE is used by 25 of the top 30 retailers in North America and by eight of the top 10 retailers in the world, according to internal statistics.

Like our other tech examples, the display may change, but the reliability and dependability never goes out of style.  Who thought they’d still play Super Mario Brothers on a flat screen television, using a wireless, motion-detecting controller?