Retail organizations have traditionally invested huge sums in weighty, industrial handheld computers to track their inventory. But now, streamlined, unlocked devices are emerging as a low-cost, versatile alternative inventory management solution in the retail warehouse.

Retailers are embracing a shift to ruggedized, unlocked smartphones and ruggedized tablets because they deliver many of the same capabilities as industrial handheld computers, but with a number of inherent advantages. According to VDC, the rugged smartphone market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of nearly 8 percent, reaching $3.8 billion by 2020.

Retail Under Pressure

Fast, flexible inventory handling operations are key at a time when consumer expectations have grown sky high. E-commerce leaders continually raise the bar in fulfillment, rapidly moving from two-day to next-day to now even same-day delivery in many regions. Naturally, that puts pressure on all retailers — whether it be e-commerce pure-plays who must match that velocity, omnichannel retailers required to achieve those service levels while also ensuring stores are well stocked, or start-ups and small and midsize retailers without sufficient resources to automate fulfillment.

To complete, retailers need to be more nimble than ever in how they leverage their inventory. Many are establishing alternative stocking locations to place goods close to anticipated demand. In addition to warehouses, retailers are setting up mini-warehouses in urban areas, fulfilling e-commerce orders from store stock, and even converting former stores into satellite warehouses, year-round or to support seasonal surges.

No matter where they place the goods, though, the needs are the same. Warehouse staff must be able to quickly and accurately receive, put away, pick, pack and ship merchandise, as well as perform inventory maintenance activities such as cycle counting. All of these activities are dispatched and performed via mobile devices, so workers must carry them everywhere, through long shifts — no matter where they are assigned to work that day.

Unlocked Phones in the Warehouse

Retailers are discovering that ruggedized, unlocked phones and ruggedized tablets are smart alternatives to costly, heavy industrial handheld computers for dynamic warehouse needs. Unlocked devices offer several important advantages:

  1. Portable: Smartphones are lightweight and easy to carry, making them much less cumbersome for long, strenuous shifts in large warehouses. Plus, their slim form factor means they can be easily pocketed in order to lift boxes — even when protected with a ruggedized case.
  2. Easier Training: As more millennials join the workforce, they actively seek out employers who use state-of-the-art technology. A familiar smartphone user experience meets millennial tech-fueled demands. Millennials’ influence is never more clear than during seasonal surges such as holidays, when retailers staff up for massive surges in order volume. Familiarity helps seasonal workers come up to speed quickly, which is key as stocking locations multiply.
  3. Rugged Design: New materials and designs have made smartphones stronger and more rugged. The Galaxy S8 Active, for instance, boasts a durable design, a metal frame that resists tilting and twisting, and a built-in bumper to guard against shocks and drops. Samsung’s Tab Active 2 tablet meets military standards for durability.
  4. Simplicity and Flexibility: Unlocked devices do not come pre-loaded with apps and carrier-specific software, so retailers don’t have to worry about memory being taken up by unnecessary applications. That also means they can fully control how the devices communicate — they can be used Wi-Fi only, or associated with the best local cellular network option for use cases outside the warehouse, such as transportation or at temporary stocking locations.
  5. Better Security: Unlike industrial devices, Samsung smartphones come equipped with Samsung Knox, Samsung’s defense-grade security platform. Built directly into the hardware, Knox places robust protection around confidential company data. It can even separate work and personal data, so business data remains isolated and encrypted from anything a user may add to the device. Or, IT can lock the device down so it can only be used for inventory or other specified functions.
  6. Versatility: Unlocked smartphones can easily be upgraded and customized for each use case. For example, retailers can add mobile apps such as timekeeping software that can boost productivity and efficiency, or advanced barcode scanning apps that can scan multiple codes in a single sequence.
  7. Streamlined Support: With proliferating stocking locations, retail IT departments must ensure they’re not supporting a wide range of devices, operating systems and software versions that drive up support costs and complexity. Standardizing on a smartphone across use cases — inventory management, mobile POS, manager devices, line-busting and so on — simplifies support. IT can more quickly replace devices when they use a consistent model and image. And thanks to Knox Configure, IT can remotely configure and manage devices with ease.

Unlocked devices are the next generation in retail inventory management solutions. Rugged design, better security, easier support, faster training and a consistent, reliable platform are the right fit for the demanding conditions and tech-savvy workforce needs of today’s high-pressure, high-velocity retail warehouse.

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