Are mobile devices creating connected store associates yet?

Photo: The Home Depot
Jul 28, 2022

In mid-June, The Home Depot handed out more than 125,000 “hdPhones,” or newfangled mobile devices, to store associates to help assist and speed customers’ journeys.

The advanced capabilities include:

  • Communication anywhere throughout the entire store and into the parking lots.  
  • Advanced-range barcode scanning to enable associates to locate products, check pricing and inventory availability in hand or from more than 40 feet away, which is particularly helpful in locating products in overhead storage.
  • Docking the device enables associates to view and demo products and specifications on larger desktop-sized screens, helping customers find products to complete their projects.

Additional capabilities include multi-device integration, more efficient app speeds, in-store texting and direct walkie-talkie communication.

“The enhanced digital in-store environment allows our customers to quickly get what they need to complete their projects with the help of a more connected associate,” said Fahim Siddiqui, EVP and CIO of Home Depot, in a statement.

RSR Research’s new study, “Has The Era Of The Empowered Workforce Finally Arrived?”, sponsored by WorkForce Software, finds mobile to be “the underlying theme for technology enablers when it comes to the store workforce.”

Among the retail “winners” surveyed — those with better than average performance — 67 percent said mobile phones provide “high value” when used by associates for customer engagement.

“Consumer-grade mobile technologies and apps are no longer nice-to-haves,” the report states. “Consumers have them in their pockets and purses; those that serve consumers must have the same capabilities.”

In other areas, 48 percent of winners gave mobile devices a “high value” rating for how they free up store managers’ time. Mobile devices were also rated highly around communication, including peer-peer messaging/collaboration, employee “micro” training content and “in context” communications (messaging embedded into workflows).

The largest retailers, however, were found to be driving mobile device adoption (70 percent compared to 41 percent overall).

A major barrier appears to be cost, including upkeep.

In an interview with WWD, Douglas Baldasare, CEO of ChargeItSpot, which helps maintain handheld devices, said that on average, 30 percent of mobile devices assigned to distribution or store staff are missing, broken, have dead batteries or are not properly charged for use. He said, “It’s all due to inefficient management processes.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Are mobile devices assigned to store associates elevating the customer experience or falling short of promises? How confident are you that mobile devices will eventually provide significant value to store associates?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"Mobile devices work best in stores when associates have a complete understanding of what they can do with them."
"With labor shortages and increased wages, retailers are turning to mobile technologies to improve associate productivity."
"Well, I thought BYOD was going to be the next big thing five years ago. Why HD is 'handing out devices' is lost on me."

Join the Discussion!

21 Comments on "Are mobile devices creating connected store associates yet?"

Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
David Naumann

With labor shortages and increased wages, retailers are turning to mobile technologies to improve associate productivity. In addition to making associates more productive, it improves customer service with better, faster access to product information and location capabilities. Company issued mobile devices for store associates may become a new standard operating process.

Bob Amster

Let us say that mobile devices should elevate the customer experience. Having to look at screens and taking one’s eye off the customer is one detriment. The the faulty maintenance scenario described in the article is another (and serious) reason. The lack of vision on the part of some store executives to empower sales associates, communicate with them effectively, and involve them more in the running of the business is lamentable and not the fault of the devices.

DeAnn Campbell

This is how technology works best — empowering employees to more effectively and efficiently help customers, rather than to replace employees and transfer more responsibilities onto the shopper.

Lee Peterson

What’s always amazed me is how far ahead restaurants are in this area. Just about anywhere you go to eat now is awash in QR codes, hand helds, fast check out, etc. Retailers: why is that? What’s the hold up? Remember when Old Navy put earphones on floor employees, like, 15 years ago? Why didn’t the next steps occur, as in hand helds, inventory, ship-to-home and QR codes galore? Amazon is the only retailer IMO that’s truly vested in technology, and the results speak for themselves. In any case, to answer the question: you bet the experience (for retailers) is falling short, and if you don’t think so, go to a restaurant for proof.

Bob Amster

Check out

Jeff Weidauer

With a 30% device missing/broken rate, I have to wonder if the money might be better spent on training associates in customer service and making them more available to shoppers.

Cathy Hotka

Mobile devices work best in stores when associates have a complete understanding of what they can do with them. Previous generations of these technologies wound up in drawers because of lack of clear communication.

Carol Spieckerman

I much prefer the standardized (and subsidized) model that Home Depot is following over the BYOD (bring-your-own-device) approach that Walmart and others have taken. Continuity, quality, and connectivity matter. Any compromises can sabotage the customer experience enhancement goals that are core to the strategy.

Gary Sankary

I believe these devices are a big win for store teams and customers. It’s a game changer when you stop a store employee and ask them a question. In the past, that was worse than hit or miss. Now, if the employee has a device on their hip, they have the information at their fingertips to answer questions and help customers find what they need. Being able to tender transactions in the aisle, especially big ticket items, is also an improvement for customer service.

Lisa Goller

Stores keep evolving with mobile solutions to keep up with shoppers with smartphones. Associates’ access to real-time inventory data and mobile checkout offers faster, smoother experiences.

5G adoption will help retail stores manage the growing volume of associates and shoppers using mobile devices.

David Spear

A solid and well managed B2E (employee-facing) program for mobile devices fosters a better environment for customer experience, management-employee connectivity, training/education and employee engagement. There are so many examples of this in many different industries.

Several years ago, I led two very large companies in B2E mobile app transformation initiatives — a Swiss grocery retailer and an Australian CPG — that radically re-imagined how employees work, from the time they started their job until they finished. Both were enormously successful with employee satisfaction off the chain.

So, yes, mobile devices can completely transform how jobs are performed and create connections with associates in a myriad of ways.

Doug Garnett

I think the RSR research nails it — mobile devices are expected. What’s not clear is whether they have moved the needle for customers, have they made a dramatic difference? Not in my own experience. But they are expected.

Dave Bruno

There’s a straight line from empowered associates to empowered shoppers, and we all know that empowered shoppers convert more and more often. This application from The Home Depot checks so many boxes for usability, versatility, and providing actual help to the associates — if they can manage the other critical ability/availability of the devices — this feels like a huge win for associates and customers.

Paula Rosenblum

Well, I thought BYOD was going to be the next big thing five years ago. Why HD is “handing out devices” is lost on me. Everyone owns one and there is good technology to wipe them as needed. So yes for the concept, no for the implementation. It’s actually a head scratcher.

Tara Kirkpatrick

For warehouse retailers, mobile hugely empowers the employee who can use it to answer questions about stock not on the shelf, including if it is in a back storage room, about to be restocked, or if it is at another store location. In the last example, employees can even go a step further to reserve the product at that other store location, which is delivering quality service to customers. When the store footprint is smaller, I agree that mobile devices become more of a distraction from customer service.

Ryan Mathews

Mobile devices facilitate service, they aren’t a magic wand for fixing poor service. That takes training. With all due respect to the sponsors of the survey who clearly have not a dog, but a whole hound pack in the game, being able to do the wrong thing faster doesn’t necessary improve the customer experience. The future significance of any retail technology depends on the retail context, how well associates are trained, and how consumers respond to it.

Melissa Minkow

Customers continue to seek more expert-level service when going into physical stores. Equipping employees with devices that enable the ability to deliver on those expectations is really important. Retailers just have to make sure this isn’t just a spectacle, but is actually productive.

Brad Halverson

I was helped by an employee with one of these, immediately identifying on hand stock at another store just a few miles away. A way better customer experience than previous visits with “you could try at our other store.” Saved me time and hassle. This is important in a retail place that can often seem short-handed on labor.

To keep this momentum, the handheld devices chosen for employees in a place like Home Depot must be more durable going forward.

Craig Sundstrom

While I’ve no doubt they will become more common, I’ve many as to how useful they will be: the problem isn’t the device(s), it’s actually locating an associate that has one.

Brian Cluster

Devices are absolutely needed to help associates provide instant feedback on product location, pricing, and other key information. However, these devices and the customer experience provided are only as good as the data behind the scenes.

Showing 2 pieces of inventory on the shelf while at home online, then going to the store and not having a single unit on the shelf happens too often. The funny thing is, in my experience the device said that there were 2 in the store but in reality there were none. The devices may elevate expectations but is the data set ready to meet them?

Anil Patel

The massive Home Depot stores carry a diverse product assortment and have a varied buyer demographic. Their strategy of providing employees with purpose-built mobile devices is effective and should be commended. Home Depot’s store associates are sincere in their assistance and consultation. As the tools are specifically designed to make their job easier, associates will be able to answer customers’ queries more quickly. Especially, looking-up specific products among thousands of products can be done in a mere few seconds. This will further augment the customer’s buying experience. However, every retailer is not required to replicate the exact Home Depot’s framework. To enhance the customer experience, they must strategically plan which tools they can provide to the associates according to their business requirements.

"Mobile devices work best in stores when associates have a complete understanding of what they can do with them."
"With labor shortages and increased wages, retailers are turning to mobile technologies to improve associate productivity."
"Well, I thought BYOD was going to be the next big thing five years ago. Why HD is 'handing out devices' is lost on me."

Take Our Instant Poll

How confident are you that mobile devices will be playing a prominent role in assisting store associates within the next five years?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...