On October 3, senior executives from six major retail and CPG companies participated in a round table discussion on the customer service, inventory tracking and other potentials benefts created by the new generation of tablets running Microsoft's new Windows 8.1 operating system. The event was hosted by Microsoft and Intel and organized by Progressive Grocer. It took place at the Hyatt Regency in Rosemont, Ill.
Tablet use both in store and throughout the retail supply chain is a relatively new B2B phenomenon. While widely in use by consumers, business applications for tablets are earlystage. The roundtable was designed as a forward-looking discussion of tablet potential, based on recent innovations in both hardware and software. One of the biggest opportunities executives identifed is that tablets allow salespeople to provide consumers with product and other information without leaving the sales foor. Walgreens, for one, has already equipped its wellness advisors with these mobile devices. Using a tablet as a mobile checkout is another popular and emerging application.
Tablets currently are in more widespread use by the hospitality, travel and restaurant industries– but these applications are poised to migrate into the retail channel to elevate customer service and enhance supply chain effciency. In restaurants, tablets are being used as easy-to-update wine lists; in the fast food industry, they serve as mobile ordering centers during busy periods; and for airlines, they allow fight attendants to upgrade passengers when they are already on the plane. ''It's an unfettered point-of-sale opportunity,'' said Tim Dorgan, vice president, managing director, Peapod Interactive, at Ahold.
The newest generation of tablets allows customer centric entities to serve shoppers quickly and effciently. This is becoming more important in a world where consumers have more information–and authority– than ever, said Colin Masson, worldwide solution director, consumer goods & marketing for Microsoft's Enterprise and Partner Group, Retail Sector. Tablets also enhance a personalized shopping experience by empowering in-store personnel with quick answers and in-person shopper offers
Tablet applications also are highly adaptable to unconventional uses. Since tablets can store purchasing information, retailers can stage tailored promotions while providing suppliers with valuable data. While everyone in the grocery industry talks about this, it has not happened to any extent. ''The biggest opportunity is understanding, discreetly, who our high value shoppers are,'' said Steve Ramsey, senior executive, GTM practice leader at IRI. ''That hasn't been cracked yet. But technology can help the effciency of how you extend the relationship.''
In some instances, tablets provided by the retailer may be used by customers. This is helpful in the color cosmetics segment where shoppers want to match skin tones and shades. In supermarkets, Kathleen Perreault, director of shopper marketing at Hill-shire Brands Co., sees tablets as a possible means for providing recipes, a big part of her company's business. ''How do we engage the shopper wherever they are?'' she added. ''How do we get them to go by the lunch meat counter?''
In all retail environments, tablets can be employed by store managers to monitor inventory and send directions to employees who may be elsewhere in the store–or off site.
On the CPG side, tablets are being employed by many feld representatives and DSD personnel. CPG executives believe the biggest beneft could be alleviating out of stocks and maintaining proper inventory levels. ''There's a lot of billion dollar opportunities,'' said Mike Hornigold, global group director of shopper technologies at the Coca-Cola Company. ''Out of stock is a big issue. Many companies could stand to have full shelves. This can drive highly productive trade and marketing spends. We're trying to explore opportunities.''
Microsoft's launch of Windows 8 last year and its subsequent 8.1 upgrade in October 2013 has enabled Microsoft and its OEM partners to address the B2B tablet market with an aggressive new posture. This move followed the introduction of Apple iPads in 2010 and Google Android tablets in 2011. Tablets powered by Windows 8.1 come in many formats and can eliminate the need for multiple devices. This is because they integrate more seamlessly with existing enterprise systems running Microsoft software, existing data bases and ancillary systems. Tablets powered by Windows 8.1 can run custom LOB applications that have already been developed in-house.
In October of this year, suppliers began to ship the new line of tablets running Windows 8.1. They are powered by the recently launched Intel® Atom™ Processor Z3700 family. These Intel-based tablets, available in 7-, 8- and 10-inch form factors, are being supplied by Dell, Lenovo, Toshiba, Asustek Computer, Hewlett-Packard and other companies. Overall, these devices provide signifcantly enhanced B2B capabilities: nearly 12 hours of battery life, the ability to run the new Modern UI and the capacity to run legacy applications.
Retail and CPG executives will, most likely, fnd a host of ways to apply a diverse range of more secure, powerful and energy effcient tablets running Windows 8.1 and Intel's new chip sets. This should further sharpen their competitive edge. ''Retailers and CPG companies that think about this will be ahead when they realize the business value,'' said Michael Taylor, retail program manager at Intel. ''While we're at the very beginning of the curve, the curve is signifcant.''