Tablets For Checkout? Yeah, Let’s Throw The Chain Under A Truck

Written by Evan Schuman
January 20th, 2011

Was thumbing through an IHL Group survey report on retail hardware released this week when one number caught my attention: Some 52 percent of specialty retailers plan to issue tablet computers to associates by the 2011 holiday shopping season. That is barely nine months from now. Whether that number is more frightening than amusing to you, however, most likely reveals the department you work for.

First, people tend to interpret surveys in a much too generous manner. Is the surveyed person saying what they want or what they’re likely to get? Or—please forgive the cynicism—they will often give as answers the results they want their bosses to read in the final report.

Let’s set all of that aside for the moment and assume that the results are actually going to happen. (Even IHL President Greg Buzek said the results were about twice as high as what he expected.) Are retailers ready for a flood of these devices in the hands of associates?

“I have some concerns that retailers haven’t thought through the security impacts of these tablets. Everything in PCI has been focused on the payment device, tokenization and end-to-end encryption. How does that play out in a world with all these touchpoints?” Buzek asked. “Everyone wants to emulate the Apple Store, but not everyone can ignore the legacy issues.”

The IHL Report should serve as a massive heads up. Here are just a few terrifying thoughts to chew on:

  • Customization
    You’re placing into associate hands a machine that is entirely customizable. It can download thousands of independent applications, with a lot more coming. These are untested and certainly unsecured. The only thing they are not is underpowered. OK, they’re also probably not being monitored or managed in any meaningful way.

    This goes way beyond viruses or worms piggybacking on a game. We’re talking about applications that could specifically be designed to break into your system, once you have kindly granted it POS and other internal accesses.

  • Wireless
    Let’s be nice and pretend that none of your associates would try and take advantage of you this way. Wireless is intended to be the ultimate customer-service boost, right? On that optimistic note, what happens if, at any of your locations, roofs, walls, thunderstorms and 50 other things interfere with your wireless signal?

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    4 Comments | Read Tablets For Checkout? Yeah, Let’s Throw The Chain Under A Truck

    1. Richard Nedwich Says:

      Good questions posed, but there are some lessons learned to help those retailers with the desire (foolish or brave) to move ahead with a tablet or smartphone deployment strategy:

      1. Wireless LAN networks can provide mobility without dependency on roof, thunderstorm, or carrier. This approach also allows for centralized device management and security.
      2. Historically, mobile computing device vendors who standardized on MS WinCE did so precisely in response to retailer demand to lock down the screen to only “business apps” — no solitaire, no Start button, or general internet access

      WLAN capability, reliability, management and security have come a long way (e.g., 801.11n, virtualization) but in my opinion, device management and compliance issues will likely always remain, in one form or another.

    2. Tom Redd Says:

      Good points but at the speed in which technology is moving and retailer’s desire to better serve there shoppers in any way possible I am confident that we will see many retail associates with some form of a Shopper Service “Pad” by December. Could this impact your great newsletter? Cause a shift from StoreFront to “PadfrontBacktalk”?

    3. Steven Kostrzewski Says:

      You raise a lot of great questions and all of your concerns should certainly be considered by a retailer when pursuing wireless, mobile solutions for improving their business.

      I only have one question in response: If Apple, one of the most secretive tech companies out there, can securely implement a mobile payment solution in their stores then why are you so convinced that this will be an impossible feat for other retailers?

      If any challenge exists, it seems it would be related to integrating the plethora of legacy systems that have been pieced together over the years at some retailers. That challenge, however is not specific to wireless networks, tablet deployments or mobile payments.

    4. Evan Schuman Says:

      Not sure why you think I’m “so convinced that this will be an impossible feat for other retailers” given that I absolutely believe that it’s going to happen and quite soon. The point is that many chains are moving ahead too quickly, before they have had a chance to factor in all of the issues they’ll need to work out.
      Apple’s accomplishment is impressive, but they were doing all internal development and it was an impressively proprietary approach with a very disciplined workforce. What today’s chains are being pitched–by a large number of vendors–is a third-party approach, being billed as seamless and–gulp–turnkey. That’s where problems will come from. Apple’s payment approach was expensive and it took a long time to test. Say what you will about Apple, they are disciplined.


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