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Consumer grade devices in retail now its serious

How does one discern when an emerging technology trend (for example, using consumer devices for POS applications in retail) is materially impacting a well-established market from a broader, macro-level perspective? Answer: The moment one (or more) of the share leaders in that particular market implicitly acknowledges the trend in question, either via the launch of a new product, acquisition, partnership, or some other form of strategic maneuvering.

In cases of highly disruptive trends—where the dominance of the established leader(s) is potentially at stake—such acknowledgement of legitimacy usually follows extensive denial. During the denial period, the trend in question is generally dismissed on the basis of “having weak security”, “lacking durability”, “being poorly suited to application X or installation environment Y” or some combination thereof. Finally, only after realizing the opportunity it’s missing—and share it’s losing—by ignoring the trend in question, the established leader addresses what is now a proven market requirement. If the company truly learned its lesson, the story usually ends happily-ever-after. If not, slow-and-painful death is the typical outcome (see: RIM).

One such trend that has manifested itself in many parts of the broader enterprise technology market is the general embracement of consumer-grade devices—particularly smartphones, but also tablets—for a range of applications in a diversity of vertical markets. In the context of this blog we’re discussing specifically the increasingly common use of smartphones and tablets in retail, especially for POS applications.  Real-life examples of this phenomenon can be found at merchants of all sizes: Lowe’s sales associates carry the iPhone equipped with a mag-stripe reader sled, while Nordstrom, Urban Outfitters and Pacific Sunwear have all deployed iPads for various consumer-facing applications. The trend is not limited to Tier 1 retailers, either—independent merchants also use consumer devices to process transactions with the help of solution providers like Square and Intuit’s GoPayment.

A small number of highly dominant firms befitting the “800-pound gorilla” moniker lead the enterprise-grade POS solution market. VDC’s POS market research indicates that the top 5 POS vendors—IBM, NCR, Wincor Nixdorf, Toshiba TEC and MICROS, respectively—account for nearly 60% of the market, while the remaining share is fragmented across more than a dozen smaller players. Each of these companies’ POS business is built on application-specific, enterprise-grade, complete solutions.

While traditional POS systems (as opposed to consumer-grade devices) still comprise the majority of POS solution revenues, consumer devices now represent a serious enough threat that several of the aforementioned leaders now offer tablet/smartphone solutions alongside their traditional POS products. For example, MICROS offers an iPad-based ordering app that tethers with its traditional restaurant-focused POS solutions, while NCR introduced “Silver,” an iPad-based POS solution that includes a card reader, cash drawer and plug & play integration with other POS hardware—including standard NCR terminals and iPhones. Today NCR announced it will partner with Socket Mobile, a leading mobile computing and data capture solutions provider, to integrate a cordless barcode scanner with Silver.

In an effort to fend off online competition, VDC expects brick & mortar merchants will continue investing in improving the customer’s in-store experience. Consumer-grade mobile devices will play an important role in achieving this strategic goal via mobilizing store associates—thereby enabling them to serve shoppers on the retail floor at the point of decision—rather than forcing the customer to locate a fixed point-of-sale or service desk. This trend has been building for the past several years—and we think it will continue gaining momentum for the foreseeable future. If you are interested in learning more about the use of consumer-grade devices in the enterprise, contact us to learn more about our new Mobile Customer Engagement Technologies (MCET) research service, which will cover this trend and its implications in depth.

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