I met some very interesting people and was delighted to give a presentation to them alongside Lisa Fretwell, Cisco UK's Director, Retail & Consumer Products, and Jon Stine, director of Cisco’s Internet Business Solutions Group (IBSG) focused on the retail market. Cisco are of course known for their innovative networking products and it's no surprise to me that the majority of routers and switches serving the Internet come from this company.
Lisa and Jon invited me to join them in giving a presentation on an innovative subject which has been pleasantly niggling the back of my mind for some time now:
The more I look at the mobile phone offers available to the consumer, the more I notice the prevalence of "dual mode" phones. These offer both cellular and wifi connectivity enabling the user to surf the web, access emails, even place Voice over IP phone calls using either their cellular or wifi connection.
I have both my Apple iPhone 3G and Nokia E61, both of which can perform these cellular/wifi tasks with ease. I have owned the E61 for two years now and its total reliability in the face of the experience I have put it through (dropping, bending, genarally sitting on it and more) is impressive.
And I mean impressive! What other consumer-grade gadget is put through the horrendous wrangler of daily life that a mobile phone is subjected? What other consumer-grade gadget of the complexity of a mobile phone has the survivability and 24/7 reliability of a mobile phone?
And yet... as a retail organization Tesco prepares itself to spend many thousands of pounds on gadgets for store use specific to singular task or two (for example, stock checking). These portable barcode scanners, industrial quality pocket pcs and other devices that do one thing. They do it well but they can cost several times as much as an unlocked 'full price' dual-mode mobile phone.
So here's my question: Why not use a dual-mode mobile phone to perform these tasks? Roam the phone onto the wifi network and use the myriad software features available to such phones (such as the built-in camera) to scan barcodes, and run the applications as web-based 'software as a service' applications, or downloadable Java applications? These applications would only function (or be available) when the phone roams onto the in-store wifi network.
More: why not stop paying for devices altogether and get staff to use their own dual-mode phone?! People tend to look after their own devices more than someone elses - it's human nature (do you really look after a hire car as well as your own car?!).
So get staff to use their own dual-mode phones with applications that only work in-store. Provide security so a staff member has to have their phone registered (MAC address and more) to work on the in-store network. And then give them a £5 towards their call-credit each month if they do use their phone for work purposes!
Suddenly the cost of acquisition, depreciation, and maintenance of devices just goes away... do you like this idea yet?!
OK, don't stop there! Get customers to use their own mobile phones for all kinds of useful services when they walk into the store and can roam onto the internal wifi network too. Imagine a customer being able to open their web browser and use a product locator service when they are in the store - it could save both customer and staff time. Better yet, how about they upload a basket of items to the company web site before they leave home, then get their mobile phone to access a service that gets them round the store 'sat-nav' style in the quickest time?
OK so the devil is in the detail. But it's not a big devil. Let's think of the customer experience here:
- They arrive at the front of the store
- They see a sign that says:
Use our wifi - start your browser and select 'Tesco' from your Wifi list'.
- They duly open their browser which causes the phone to list the available access points and they choose 'Tesco'.
- Their web browser tries to get to whatever home page the customer has set up - but is of course directed to a 'landing page' much the same way that you see a landing page when accessing the internet through a hotel wifi service, and you have to provide your credentials and possible payment details to proceed.
- The landing page offers services such as 'find a product' and, once marketing get this idea, a whole host of marketing messages.
This is going to be good.