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Home Depot Creates Better Store Experiences With Mobile Technology, In-Store WiFi

Delivering an engaging in-store experience relies on a retailer’s ability to leverage the technology that empowers associates and creates more compelling brand experiences, according to new research from Motorola Solutions. The majority (74%) of retailers surveyed for Motorola’s 2012 Future of Retail study reported that creating this more engaging experience will be business-critical over the next five years. Moreover, half of respondents indicated that integrating their online and in-store experiences also will be crucial within the same period. However, best-in-class retailers, such as Home Depot, already have tackled both strategies by implementing mobile technology and offering complimentary WiFi in stores.

During a panel session at Motorola Solutions’ recent Media Day Event, Jennifer Smith, Senior Director of Store Operations for Home Depot, discussed how the retailer is improving shopper-to-associate communication, decreasing wait times and stock-outs, and maximizing customer satisfaction with its Motorola MC75 Enterprise Digital Assistant (EDA) devices — which Home Depot has renamed its “First Phones.” 

First Phones: Boosting Associate Empowerment And Customer Satisfaction
Home Depot leverages an average of 15 First Phones within each of its 2,254 locations nationwide to improve employee task management, and ensure customer satisfaction and engagement. The First Phones primarily are utilized for service-oriented objectives, Smith said, that “empower associates with the knowledge and confidence to solve customer problems and tackle opportunities.”

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Designed as a hybrid phone/walkie, the First Phone allows employees and store managers to communicate instantly from anywhere within a store. It also allows associates to track and manage customer service opportunities more seamlessly, such as helping shoppers find items in-store, and guiding consumers to nearby Home Depot locations that carry out-of-stock goods. Additionally, associates can send and receive alerts when items need restocking on the sales floor.

All First Phones are equipped with payment capabilities, including barcode scanners and mag stripe readers, to aid in line-busting, which Home Depot sees “as a huge benefit, especially when we look at the overall customer service opportunity of addressing that frustration point in the final phase of the shopping experience,” Smith explained. “Mobile POS has given us a tool to solve those issues [at check-out] and, make a course-correct if an issue occurs.”

Joining Smith in the recent panel discussion were Alison Paul, Vice Chairman and U.S. Retail and Distribution Leader for Deloitte, and Jim Welch, SVP and GM of Motorola Solutions, North America. Motorola’s Corporate VP, Girish Rishi, moderated the panel.

“This is the most transformative time for modern retail,” Rishi said. “All aspects [of the business] are changing, and retailers are trying to find new ways to reach their customers as they streamline operations.”

While many retailers are eager to join the enterprise mobility fray, there is no one-size-fits-all strategy, Paul emphasized. “The solution Home Depot is using really fits the needs within its stores for its customers,” she said. For example, “a lot of Home Depot’s shoppers would be willing to drive to the next store to get the [home improvement product] they need; however, that may not be the case for someone looking for the perfect blue sweater.”

Since the initial rollout of its First Phone in mid-2010, Home Depot has experienced a surge in Net Promoter Scores, and positive customer sentiment and feedback, Smith reported. The rollout’s benefits were seen “mostly at the front-end,” she said, “whether it was line-busting and improving the overall check-out experience, or solving stock-outs and providing associates with the tools and resources to solve problems in the aisle.” 

Due to the success of the First Phone, Home Depot now is adopting a model of EWP devices from Motorola and branding them as “First Phone Juniors.” These advanced yet simpler to use, less rugged phones specifically will be used for basic service-focused obligations, particularly in new-hire situations. “Based on the benefits we saw with the MC75 devices,” added Smith, “we will have EWP devices in every store by the end of 2012.”

Implementing consumer-grade mobile devices in stores and leveraging them with enterprise software and solutions ensures a seamless training process in light of fast-paced employee turnover rates, Paul explained. More efficient training methods like these allow merchants to easily balance costs and improve operations across locations. “Consumer-grade mobile tools are very intuitive: we’ve seen new employees pick them up, adapt to them quickly then start helping customers within an hour of being hired,” she said. “That’s a huge difference in productivity.”

More organizations across markets are testing and rolling out Bring Your Own Device business models and revamping consumer devices for the enterprise, according to Welch. This proliferation is expected to continue during the next five years. “Some of the technologies we’re bringing to market take the best of what consumers like about a device, such as a smartphone’s or tablet’s capabilities,” he said, “and make those tools and capabilities very applicable in an enterprise world.”

The WiFi Connection

During the session, the panel discussed Amazon’s Price Comparison app and consumers’ instant access to competitor inventory via mobile devices, and how that capability has made retailers question the benefits of rolling out WiFi in stores.

While many retailers feel that enabling consumers with mobile web access may drive their shoppers to their online and brick-and-mortar competitors, in-store WiFi presents an opportunity for empowered store associates to veer shoppers away from comparison-shopping, Paul explained. Furthermore, by not providing WiFi, retailers actually may drive consumers out of stores, especially in today’s hyper-connected world: when in-store shoppers feel disconnected to the outside world, they have an incentive to leave the store.

Home Depot believes in the importance of creating connected stores. Smith explained that by offering WiFi in all Home Depot locations, the retailer has opened a new door for customer-to-associate dialogue.

“While there are price discrepancies [among retailers], consumers are getting smarter and can see the features and benefits of specific items directly through their mobile devices,” Smith said. As a result, consumers can gain a better understanding of why certain Home Depot items may be more expensive than its competitors’ goods, whether it’s better quality or more detailed features and capabilities. “However, the key is making associates empowered and competent to have those conversations, and explain the competitive advantage of buying from Home Depot, versus a competitor down the street.”

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