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Earlier this week, we kicked off  special customer guest blog series with Andrew vonNagy, author of the blog Revolution Wi-Fi, and active on Twitter @revolutionwifi. Join us today as Andrew explores the next two major retail trends changing the Wi-Fi industry, and catch up with the first part if you missed it.

Trend 2: Empowering Sales Associates
Given the increasingly connected and smart shopper, consumers now have more product information than in-store sales associates in many cases. Yet sales staff are key to providing a great consumer experience in-store. Retailers need to empower sales associates with the depth of product information that consumers have, and to provide additional tools that facilitate existing and new services offered by the retailer.

Historically, only a fraction of retail sales associates have been provided with mobile devices, and those devices have enabled only a limited set of capabilities such as stocking, inventory management and product availability. One reason for this is the high cost of ruggedized mobile devices for use in retail. A typical high-speed scanner PDA can cost well over $1,200 each. In order to provide every sales associate with more information to help consumers, retailers are adopting lower-cost, feature-rich, smart mobile devices that provide more robust capabilities than specialized scanners. Mobile platforms built by Apple, Android, and third-party manufacturers are enabling this shift, along with a retail IT focus on enabling business processes in a more flexible, consistent, and re-usable fashion.

Leveraging these smart mobile devices, retailers are rolling out new services such as expanded-aisle and mobile POS (point-of-sale). Expanded-aisle capabilities allow sales associates to easily retrieve additional product and assortment information for consumers from the retailer’s back-end systems, show consumers rich media content such as videos and product demonstrations, send the consumer more information to their mobile phone or email in real-time, and seamlessly integrate with the retailer’s e-commerce website to facilitate checkout and payment activities. Mobile POS capabilities allow the retailer to provide a better customer checkout experience in many situations. These include faster checkout for small basket sizes, flexible checkout locations throughout the store, easier checkout for large bulky items (e.g. furniture, appliances), electronic receipts, and relief of line congestion during peak hours without dedicating floor space to more register lanes. Empowering sales associates with smart mobile devices on a larger scale than before will require a robust, well-designed Wi-Fi network that can handle greater capacity and is highly reliable. Like the old political slogan “a chicken in every pot,” retail is adopting “a mobile device in every hand!”

Trend 3: The In-Store Digital Experience
The in-store experience is critical to connecting and engaging customers with relevant merchandise and marketing information to capture their attention and turn browsers into buyers. Increasingly this means replacement of printed signage with one-way or interactive digital solutions that provide real-time, dynamically updated content that can be roll out in minutes or hours, instead of days or weeks.

Retailers are deploying one-way digital signage and electronic shelf labels in aisles and on end-caps, which can be updated immediately once changes have been decided by corporate staff, replacing long lead times for printing and distribution of paper signage materials. Digital signage is expensive, cannot be placed at every desired location, and locations requirements will change seasonally with product. Therefore, these systems will require portability. Running Ethernet cabling to every possible location is also not financially attractive, so these systems will rely on Wi-Fi networks for management, monitoring, and content retrieval. Interactive digital kiosks are migrating from fixed location solutions to mobile solutions as well.

Connected electronics allow retailers to showcase Internet-connected consumer electronics capabilities and increase sales. Consumer devices such as televisions, DVD/Blu-Ray players, gaming systems, music systems, computers, tablets, and smartphones are integrating more digital content and streaming services as core product features which drive differentiation and purchase decisions. Retailers will need to connect these devices to in-store Wi-Fi to demonstrate these capabilities to consumers to enhance the shopping experience. At the same time, provisioning and management of these devices will be challenging due to their lack of enterprise features, high churn rate (as product assortments change), and necessity for well-developed in-store processes and staff training.

Be sure to let @revolutionwifi or @Cisco_Mobility know your thoughts, and come back next week for the final 2 trends!

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