Zebra Technologies – Is the “Better Together” campaign really working?

by Richa Gupta | 08/11/2015

Zebra Technologies reported its Q2 2015 earnings on August 11th missing analysts’ EPS estimates by $0.13 while beating on revenue. Net sales of $889.8 million for the quarter included $573 million contributed by the Enterprise business unit acquired from Motorola Solutions, a 2% increase from Q2 2014. Zebra’s legacy business (including barcode printers, card printers, consumables, location services) accounted for $320.8 million, down 3.2% from Q1 2015 but up from $288.4 million (11.2%) in Q2 2014. The company’s gross margin now stands at 44.2%, down from 49.3% for 2014; this is reflective of rebranding of legacy Motorola product, the change in product mix and the contribution of Enterprise solutions to the overall revenues, which tend to have a lower margin than legacy Zebra products.

All in all, the investor community is not pleased with the results, sending the stock down almost 24% in a day. From VDC’s perspective, this reflects the market’s reaction to the significantly lower gross margins, lower-than-expected Q3 guidance, and the $3 billion debt that Zebra Technologies has on its hands. Investors are still getting used to the new normal at the company especially given how robust its legacy business performance has been in the past few quarters, especially for what is generally viewed as a stable and relatively saturated market.

The VDC team was invited by Zebra Technologies for a day-long analyst event a few weeks ago to take a sneak peek at some (relatively) new and emerging solution offerings from the company since its acquisition of Motorola Solutions’ Enterprise business unit. VDC was privy to innovative proof-of-concepts and solution capabilities that we are not at liberty to discuss, but there certainly are products and services that we can share here on this blog.

  1. MPact Marketing Platform – This is Zebra’s customer engagement offering that leverages the company’s locationing technology to generate highly personalized and (potentially) customer-specific marketing analytics and insight. This platform is designed to enable decision makers in customer-facing application environments to enhance engagement levels using information available on the MPact dashboard, giving them high levels of visibility into customer movement and providing actionable (and customizable) insights. From VDC’s perspective, the biggest potential drawback to this solution is that all of this information is only available IF customers opt-in to receive in-store or indoor notifications AND also turn on Bluetooth on their mobile devices. While this is an effort to close the gap between online and brick-and-mortar retail in terms of promotions and product recommendations, VDC does not see any material enhancements to the platform since its launch more than a year ago.
  2. SimulScan Document Capture – This was, perhaps, one of the most interesting product demonstrations at the event. The API is designed to extract critical data from documents, automating data entry even with character recognition, helping organizations make the switch from paper-based tracking to one that is fully available electronically. With the ability to also capture information from multiple barcodes at the same time, VDC believes SimulScan has the potential to significantly enhance productivity, providing chain of custody of all material to improve supply chain efficiencies. Zebra now has SimulScan as part of its Mobility DNA suite which also includes Workforce Connect Push-to-Talk, RhoMobile, and Swipe Assist among others. VDC believes extending this SimulScan capability to purpose-built handheld barcode imagers will give the company a big leg-up over its competition in the highly fragmented scanning market.
  3. Zebra One Care and Operational Visibility Service (OVS) – Zebra also officially released a new integrated service portfolio, Zebra OneCare – primarily offering break-fix, repair, and maintenance services for Zebra- and Symbol-branded devices. The portfolio is a combination of Zebra’s previous Zebracare and Motorola Solutions’ Service from the Start. OVS is designed to provide insight into device health, location, and utilization, and to deliver the data and analytics required to optimize device efficiency and is included for no additional charge in the Premier package of Zebra Onecare. This is a big step in Zebra’s efforts to integrate the new acquired division with its legacy business. The company is making a concerted effort to communicate the value proposition and benefits afforded by these new service portfolio extensions and enhancements enabling partners to resell and rebrand the OVS for deeper customer relationships. From VDC’s viewpoint, it will be interesting to see how the company differentiates this offering from Honeywell’s device management software for scanning and mobile devices, Remote MasterMind®.

It was interesting to see all these solutions and innovative product ideas coming from the erstwhile Motorola Solutions Enterprise unit. However, despite the branding efforts and the combined partner program launched at the Global Partner Summit in May, VDC finds the messaging to be a little disjointed. Product innovation and development continue to be largely restricted to the way things were conducted prior to the acquisition. That said, it has been less than a year since the two businesses came together. While Zebra executives may certainly be professing the “better together” mantra, we believe the market will only be convinced once it sees integrated product development and marketing initiatives from the company.

There is, obviously, a lot more to come from Zebra Technologies. The company’s messaging to its partners and customers needs to match up to expectations from a distribution and execution standpoint – a tough ask, especially given the sizable acquisition (and debt) that it has undertaken. Zebra’s (re)branding efforts in the past few months have certainly been very commendable; it is now up to the company’s leadership to take it to the next level with extensive collaboration across its two “divisions” so they really are viewed as better together by key stakeholders.

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