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Home Depot’s remodeled associate smartphone showcases mobile in-store prowess

Home Depot continues to show that it is a force to reckon with in leveraging mobile in-store to drive sales as the retailer introduces the next generation of a smartphone designed specifically for store associates.

The home improvement chain originally deployed its First Phone in 2010, when few retailers had full-blown mobile strategies and, if they did, were focused more on mobile’s potential to drive online sales as opposed to in-store sales. In the period since, numerous major retailers have embraced a multitude of mobile in-store strategies, including Wi-Fi, store modes on apps, QR codes and beacons.

“Clienteling is a sales strategy for increasing the volume or frequency potential of the in-store shopping experience by delivering 360-degree customer views and sales tools to associates,” said Sheryl Kingstone, Toronto-based research director for Yankee Group. “Mobile CRM platforms have become the center of many mobile engagement strategies, especially as they relate to sales enablement.

“Consumers have more information at their fingertips than the sales associates,” she said. “Retail stores must empower front-line associates with the right information at the right time.

“Location technologies have also increased the value by enabling door triggers to know when VIP customers enter the store.”

Next generation engagement
The new phones feature a more intuitive interface, Internet access and The Home Depot mobile application, enabling store associates to help customers locate products, check inventory on hand and explain product features.

Besides serving as a phone, the device also acts as a walkie-talkie and inventory management tool. Additionally, store associates can use the phone to look up products, conduct business analytics and help cut reduce checkout line wait times during busy periods.

The phone can also be used to check out customers in the outside garden area of stores.

Approximately 40,000 next-generation First Phones are being distributed to Home Depot associates across the country in time for the spring season. The goal is to improve customer service and efficiency in the aisles.

The phone is a proprietary Zebra Technologies device that was designed specifically for The Home Depot.

In-store mode
The news comes as The Home Depot is staffing up spring – its busiest selling season – with 80,000 new hires.

The First Phone is just one way that The Home Depot is leveraging mobile in-store.

In-store shoppers can use The Home Depot app on their smartphones to narrow down where products are located through text or voice-enable search.

The app also offers an in-store experience and, when GPS and location services are activated, users can view store maps, product aisle locations and local ads.

Additionally, the app leverages augmented reality to enable shoppers to see what an item might looks like at home.

During the recent holiday shopping season, smartphone-enabled catalogs throughout stores connected shoppers to more product options.

Shoppers could also use their phones to shop The Home Depot online to access exclusive online items and share their Home Depot wish lists with friends.

“With these exponential adoption rates of mobile devices, harnessing the opportunity across the customer journey will be the ultimate game changer,” Ms. Kingstone said. “Retailers need to bridge the digital interactions with brick and mortar interactions with new innovative technologies along business process changes.

“Sales Associate CRM for in-store engagement is a critical investment for 2015,” she said.

Final Take
Chantal Tode is senior editor on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York