Time was, the market for industrial strength retail computers, such as handheld scanners, was dominated by three companies, Symbol, Telxon, and Psion.
All three of those companies now belong to Motorola Solutions (MSI), which split off from Motorola Mobility (MMI) in late 2010. (The Symbol deal happened in 2007, the Psion deal was just announced last week.) Moto Mobility, of course, is in the process of being acquired by Google (GOOG), but Moto Solutions continues as its own ball of wax.
I spent some time this afternoon talking to Eduardo Conrado, Moto Solutions’s chief marketing officer, about the company’s newly announced efforts in retail.
Retail businesses provide 11% of Moto Solutions’s total annual revenue, as part of the company’s “enterprise” division. So, increasing Moto’s sales to retailers can have a measurable impact on Moto’s growth.
In a loft on Mercer Street in the SoHo neighborhood of Manhattan, Moto was showing some simulated shopping environments with different kinds of technology to make the whole buying experience in a store more mobile, as the company sees it.
For example, Moto unveiled a new handheld based on Google’s Android software that looks and feels pretty much like a ruggedized version of one of the Moto handsets. It has a built-in product label scanner, to gather product information, and a card swipe. The idea is that by having a handheld to check inventory or take a purchase, the store attendant can spend more time with a customer selling, rather than running back and forth to the stock room.
A second device is an employee badge that has a display based on the e-ink technology found in Amazon.com‘s (AMZN) “Kindle” and other gadgets. This is less sophisticated than the Android handheld, but Moto thinks it will make some staff more productive by letting them swipe an item on the show floor and see immediately on the badge’s grayscale display whether there is inventory on site, for example.
Yet another example is where a shopper has an app on their smartphone for places they frequently shop. When they enter the store, news of “deals” can be pushed to the phone, and store staff can be alerted to the customer’s arrival.
A couple questions arise, of course. Will customers be into using apps on their smartphone regularly? And will store staff be capable of realizing the wild scenarios imagined for the technology?
We shall see. Browsing the aisles of major electronics retailers, something clearly needs to be fixed, as the experience is not great. Not only does the average shopper know more these days than many sales associates about the latest tablets or smartphones. The in-store displays are usually a disaster, with test units in disarray, or just plain broken, confusing or incorrect signage placed next to the devices.
I don’t know if Moto can fix any of those aspects of the retail “experience,” but here’s hoping.