In the early days of smartphones, companies often provided business-specific devices to employees to keep work and personal communication separate. However, now that 81% of Americans own a smartphone, more companies are leveraging the power of the personal computers in their employees’ back pockets to improve communication and customer service on the job.
The result is the BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) trend. Employee smartphones provide retailers with a new channel for delivering instructions, training material, updated brand, and product information, and more.
“The biggest advantage is likely speed,” says Jeremy Baker, CTO of Retail Zipline. “Pulling up a schedule on your phone or texting a group to see who can work your shift is infinitely faster than asking individuals or looking on a bulletin board. Importantly, there’s also the potential for increased community among employees, which research shows leads to increased loyalty and less turnover.”
Regardless of whether your business has made an official policy statement about employees using personal devices in your stores, it’s already happening. Many retail employees are young, and it’s almost as hard to pry them away from their phones as it is to split the atom.
So, as with many new technologies, it’s become a matter of policy catching up to reality. Some retailers saw the trend as an opportunity to lower costs and increase productivity; others merely acknowledged what was already happening (77% of employees use their own devices at work regardless of the rules) and developed policies in order to mitigate the risks.
Owner of Core Competence, Lisa Pfifer, wrote:
“This horse has not only left the barn but will trample any IT department that intends to stand in the way. There may be use cases that are inappropriate for BYOD, such as specialized mobile healthcare devices or ultrabooks that carry classified data. But nearly every company has employees who buy and use their own phones and tablets, and those devices are going to find their way into the workplace.”
Ultimately, whether it’s because they recognize the many potential benefits or simply accept BYOD as inevitable, it’s high time for all retailers to give serious thought to how they want to handle the BYOD trend.
One reason BYOD has been slower to catch on in retail than in other industries is that many retailers remain reliant on their own in-store technology, such as scanners, cash registers, and store computers. The prospect of integrating systems across hundreds or thousands of locations and personal devices can be daunting.
In addition, the convenience of embracing BYOD comes with serious considerations, such as how to account for employee time on devices, varied state legislation on the issue, and even liability for what’s posted and where. And then there’s the fact that employers have an obligation to record and store all work-related communications. Work emails will be stored on company servers, but if employees use personal texting for work-related communications, things can get rather sticky.
There are also significant security and regulatory challenges, especially when retail employees use their personal devices to collect and transmit sensitive data like payment information.
On the other hand, the benefits of using mobile devices in-store have been well-documented, especially when it comes to improving the customer experience. Mobile devices make it possible for stores to eliminate lines at checkout, and they empower employees to answer questions faster, order out-of-stock items immediately and generally enhance a customer’s visit.
Here are some of the primary benefits of using BYOD in a retail environment:
Along with the advantages, BYOD also presents some retail-specific challenges:
Those are just a few of the issues retailers need to think about before embracing BYOD. Kristina Podnar, digital governance advisor and author of “The Power of Digital Policies,” suggests:
“Before diving head-first into BYOD, you should consider and develop a policy that addresses labor laws (overtime and cellular data usage reimbursement compensation), privacy and data ownership (who owns the analytics generated on the device, especially under new laws such as CCPA and GDPR), security (protection against data breach and loss), and records management (eDiscovery during lawsuits).”
BYOD presents many opportunities for retailers, but many risks, too. However, given that employees are already using their personal devices at work whether you want them to or not, smart retailers will go ahead and develop policies regarding their use.
For now, the best advice is to borrow from lessons learned in other industries – and, above all, to consult with your own legal team. They can help you with things like drafting employee “terms of service” agreements (identifying conditions under which you may examine texts, personal emails, social media accounts, etc.), whether you have to pay employees if they use their devices for work-related activities when they aren’t at work, whether you have to reimburse them for data usage, etc. They, along with your IT team, can also address issues of data security and customer privacy.
Additionally, keep yourself informed of BYOD trends. Educate yourself and your company on how technology is changing the world of retail, as well as how and when their own personal devices may come into play. You can count on the Zipline blog to keep you informed of new developments as we explore this uncharted territory together!
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