Iphone: Enterprise Apps for the Retailers

First of all, I would start out by saying that a lot of things discussed here applies to any mobile/smartphone device. I have taken the example of iPhone since that’s the prevalent mobile device right now and is leading the way in expanding the mobile user base. And, me being an iPhone fanboy has nothing to do with it ūüôā

With iPhone/iPod touch predicted to touch a user base as big as 100 million in a year or so, the retailers cannot afford to ignore the platform.¬†Big retailers (like target,amazon, walmart, bestbuy et al.)¬† have already created an iPhone app and there are people out there questioning why some retailers don’t have an iPhone app. Yes, we have arrived at a point where a customer facing iPhone app is taken for granted for any big retailer and if its missing, its negatively impacting the brand image in minds of the young consumer.

There has already been considerable movement in the space of m-commerce iPhone app. There is much literature out there discussing the merits & benefits of creating an iPhone application in that space (Click Here to read an article on benefits for a retailers creating an iPhone app ). Also, people have already seen how these apps are changing consumer shopping behaviour (Click here to read the NY Times article on bargain shopping using the mobile). So I will not touch a lot on that aspect of use case of an iPhone app. I will rather discuss and make a case on how this trend will ultimately inspire internal enterprise apps.

Creating a consumer facing m-commerce app first obviously made sense since that has the fastest tangible ROI and that’s the reason that lot large retailers went for it in a big way. However, the implications of these apps are huge to retail space. These apps have implicitly made the job of selling so much more competitive in ways that one cannot measure right now. I will use few personal examples to illustrate my point:

  • I was at Best Buy and I remembered that I had to upgrade my router. I went looking and as soon as I found the one I liked, I keyed in the model number into the amazon mobile app (I like amazon :)) and the same was available for $15 less. I immediately ordered it on Amazon. Exactly same thing happened with my newborn’a car seat at BabysRUs store and Amazon won again.
  • I was heading to office when the oil indicator lighted up in my car. So I stopped and opened the “Yowza!!” iPhone app that shows coupons available at nearby retailers and found that a $10 off coupon was available for the local Oil Can Henrys. So off I went and they accepted the coupon without it being printed.

And I could go on and on. Couple of obvious observations from the examples above:

  • Previously,¬† retailers probably had at least a day to respond to the competition, that time window has now been shrunk to hours or even real-time or else they are at risk of lost sales.
  • Location specific Mobile Marketing will become more and more important as mobile/smartphone devices become an integral part of our lives.

This changed landscape will require the retailers to be more nimble, agile and mobile. They have to be able to respond fast and respond from anywhere. That’s where the Enterprise iPhone apps come into the picture. With the assumption that a retailer already has an m-commerce or at least an m-marketing app out there, I will present the following use cases for an enterprise iPhone app:

  • Competitive Pricing : This functionality will be used by a merchant/buyer. One use case is where the user will be able to add few (100s or 1000s) items on a price watch list. A price watch engine will then track the prices of these items every few minutes on competitors websites and if it finds a lower price, it will send a push notification to the application. The user can review the notifications, review the GM% and other KPIs and if he decides to meet/better the competitor price, he can then initiate a price change to its item from within the apps.¬†Another use case would be when merchants’ assistants will be window shopping the competition and when they see a lower price, they will use the instant price change functionality of the application (or which could optionally be forwarded to Merchant’s app for review/approval).
  • Mobile Marketing: This a no brainer. Merchants / Buyers already publish daily deals through some desktop / server applications to the mobile apps (amazon mobile has this). But buyers / merchants / store managers can publicize an instant sale (perhaps to move merchandize late in the day to meet a sale target) by sending out push notifications. This will be even more useful if Apple starts supporting location specific push notifications. Some retailers are already doing some of this using social networking sites (like Facebook).
  • Sales / Performance Dashboards: Live Real Time Sale Reports at one’s finger tips has been the dream and pursuit of many retailers. By this time, most of them¬† already have the infrastructure to get this information and view it on their PC, all they need to do is plug it into an iPhone App UI and track sales/performance for their key items. If a Retailer wants to do this from scratch or if they already have a BI ERP (from Oracle or SAP or Salesforce¬†et al.), they can use one of the existing apps out there (Click here for a list of exiting business apps). Thus they can track sales of any items (with alerts) and then take actions (price changes / promotions etc.) to meet the sales goals.
  • Quickly setup items & Write POs: As buyers go into the market and find items they like, they can immediately scan (or rather snap) UPCs from suppliers, download the item information from the cataloging sites, upload the item information into their internal systems and start writing purchase orders right away. All this from within the app.
  • The New “BlackBerry”: The list of things that iPhone can do will go on. We are at a point where iPhone has the potential to change the way we interact with the Enterprise apps, the same way blackberry changed the way we interact with our Enterprise mails & schedules. Not only can we respond to mails on the go (and all the time) ¬†but we can now write POs, View Reports, make budgets – do actual work on-the-go.

All said, there will be many challenges that one will face while implementing enterprise apps.  Enabling the iPhone apps  to securely access enterprise data  and manipulate it will require water tight security. Many enterprises have yet to adopt iPhone for mails due to lack of confidence in its secure framework, faith in the old blackberry and existing investment in blackberry devices. So one will have to overcome that hurdle.  Also, one needs to thoroughly formulate the architecture for the services, frameworks and interface for enabling the access to enterprise transactional data.

Having made the case for enterprise iphone apps, I am still a realist. M-commerce / consumer facing apps will trump the enterprise apps any day. But if a retailer or their competitor have that out already then the next step is the enterprise iphone app.

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One comment on “Iphone: Enterprise Apps for the Retailers

  1. One of the better articles, I have read in a long time.I do agree that LBS is the future for mobile Application with Enterprise Mobile apps gaining importance. Great going !! keep it up!!

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