5 tablet headaches retailers face (and how to cure them)

Retailers are spending big on iPads and other tablets in a bid to increase efficiency and enhance the in-store shopping experience. But with new opportunities come potential pitfalls. Here’s how to handle the most common ones.

Employee timewasting

The big retail splurge on tablets has enabled companies to quickly check stock, take payments, and even view store sales performance. But one of the early problems retailers have had to counter is how their employees misuse these devices.

Temptations like Angry Birds, Facebook, and Twitter, among others lie in the way of real tablet productivity, but there are ways of curtailing this activity such as locking the iPad to one app using Guided Access and by utilizing a Mobile Device Management Solution.

“Time wasting on tablets is a potential problem if retail employees are given a tablet with full internet access to use,” says Ovum analyst Richard Absalom. “We think that this issue is best dealt with through HR policies and a performance review system—you can see if performance is suffering and act accordingly, not necessarily using a technology solution. However, if retailers do want to put controls in place, using an MDM client can monitor device usage and log activity.”

Poor wireless connectivity

It doesn’t matter how many tablets you deploy in-store, they’ll be useless if your Wi-Fi router can’t keep up with demand . As Aron Schwarzkopf, CEO of tablet POS start-up Leaf, explains, where you place your wireless access point is key.

Make sure you deploy enough wireless access points in the right spots so you have reliable connectivity for your tablets.

“One area that many small businesses don’t give much thought about when deploying tablets is their wireless connection,” says Schwarzkopf. “For the most part, it’s something they’ve never had to deal with before—and even if they have it’s usually out of sight and out of mind already. However, an unreliable Wi-Fi connection can negate any of the benefits you hope to gain from tablets, and cause a lot of headaches along the way.

Schwarzkopf suggests putting your access point high in an open space where you have a direct line of sight to the areas where you’ll use your tablets.

Device breakage

Portability is part of a tablet’s appeal, but the devices aren’t designed to withstand the heavy knocks, drops, and liquid spillage they may be subjected to in a retail environment. So be sure to equip your device with a rugged case and stand.

“Retailers and restaurants overall have fewer problems when they deploy tablets rather than a similar implementation with a PC-based Windows point of sale terminal,” says Jason Richelson, chief executive of POS system ShopKeep. “There are fewer cables with a tablet and a battery backup is built in to name a few [benefits]. [But] we definitely recommend using a strong stand like the Heckler stand we offer which allows you to swivel the iPad and locks it down to the counter.”

Payment security

Some retailers have taken to using the iPad as a mobile POS system, and while that has worked well in most scenarios, it does also open up the possibility of data theft should any malicious software infect the device. Because of that risk, Erik Vlugt, vice president of product marketing for VeriFone, suggests a different solution to avoid any such issues.

“Passing payment data through a consumer electronics device and over a wireless network creates a number of new concerns,” he says. “In general, retailers are best served by separating the secure payment system from the tablet. This helps to achieve a clear delineation between the business logic and the payment logic.”

Tracking analytics

Your tablet won’t be anything more than eye-candy if it doesn’t serve up sufficient new information on how your business operates. For that, you should be looking to deploy a cloud-based tablet solution so that you have a firm grip on everything from sales and inventory to useful back-office data.

Writing in TabTimes recently, Revel CEO Lisa Falzone described how a cloud-based solution is vital for anywhere, anytime access and added that it can represent significant cost savings too: “One of the largest time and cost savings of a cloud-based system is that it negates the need to physically have or access a back-office server since all data is accessible from anywhere with Internet access.”

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