Should store associates be allowed to use their personal devices?

Jun 29, 2017
Tom Ryan

According to a study in the U.K. by Fujitsu, 65 percent of the 1000 associates surveyed have used their mobile or other personal device in order to do their job more effectively.

One reason is that many retailers don’t provide such devices. But even when staff have enough systems and devices to go around, problems persist.

Half of those surveyed (50 percent) noted that the retailer-provided devices perform slowly. More than a third (37 percent) suggest that they find it quicker to get on with their jobs without using the tech they are issued. About a quarter of associates (24 percent) worry that the in-store technology looks outdated and could give customers a bad impression.

Moreover, a large number of associates believe shoppers are able to access a broader (70 percent) and more rapidly sourced (72 percent) array of information about products using their own devices than associates are with company-provided devices.

As detailed in a recent RetailWire discussion, cost is the primary reason retailers don’t provide associates with devices. A secondary factor is a lack of trust in how workers will use supplied devices.

The BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) to work strategy remains under debate in many workplaces. The pros include being able to better recruit younger consumers accustomed to their always-on smartphones. Some companies apply restrictions, such as only checking social media during breaks. For work purposes, personal devices eliminate company costs and may be a better tool in developing stronger consumer relations, even on social media.

The cons relating to privacy and security threats were spelled out by Fujitsu. According to the report, “From colleagues sharing information on individuals that they may deem to be a risk to a store to customers providing personal information that is captured on an unsecured device, the possible pitfalls resulting from the circumvention of official systems are all too plentiful.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Should stores allow associates to use their personal mobile devices for work purposes on selling floors? How big a concern is security when workers use unsecured devices?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"It’s all about hiring the right employees and being able to trust them. "
"I think the answer depends on the store, how many associates there are and how they benefit from using their own devices."
"There is a difference between working and playing with a device. If an associate is using a device to help a shopper, that’s obviously beneficial..."

Join the Discussion!

15 Comments on "Should store associates be allowed to use their personal devices?"

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Bob Phibbs

I’ve seen these policies that associates can use their own devices but only for work. It simply doesn’t work in the real world with the employee’s phone on the desk chirping and clucking drawing their attention or, when it’s slow, drawing them back to the much more engaging virtual world. We didn’t let employees use store phones for personal calls, I don’t see this as much different.

How about training your employees so they know what they are selling and how to do it efficiently instead of assuming more technology is the answer?

Mark Ryski

Having ready access to content and information on mobile devices is and will continue to be an important tool for retail associates, however these should be company-owned devices provided by the company and not personal devices. As noted in the study, the opportunity for distraction is significant with personal devices and it significantly impacts the ability for the company to control information. While the cost of providing, maintaining and updating these devices is not inconsequential, the potential value they have in enabling associates to serve customers and deliver a better store experience needs to be considered.

Al McClain

Yes, store associates should be able to use their mobile devices at work. It is simply not realistic to try to stop smartphone use at work anymore. A much better idea is to provide guidance to employees about what store business they should use their own phones for, and when they can use them for personal things. Blanket policies such as “no cell phone use at any time” are just not effective in today’s world. Perhaps customer information needs to be kept on retailer-issued devices, but those are often tablets, which can be a hassle to carry around the store when you are trying to help a customer.
At some point, the retailer either has to have some faith in its employees, or not. If they can’t even trust them to handle their own phones properly, perhaps they have hired the wrong employees.

Meaghan Brophy
Meaghan Brophy
Senior Retail Writer
3 years 1 month ago

Agreed. Banning personal cell phones altogether is unrealistic. It’s all about hiring the right employees and being able to trust them. As long as all of the work is being done and there is no cell phone use for personal reasons in front of customers, I really don’t see a problem.

Art Suriano

I think the answer depends on the store, how many associates there are and how they benefit from using their own devices. I can see so many issues such as personal emails/texts, personal calls and browsing the web when the store is slow. All of these can be significant problems.

However if the store can develop a program that monitors personal device use through the company Wi-Fi and the retailer only allows them access to the company Wi-Fi, then there are many benefits such as: 1.) The employees are most familiar with their device and can navigate quickly. 2.) Their device technology is better than what their employer will provide. 3.) There is less risk of theft because employees wouldn’t steal their own device. 4.) There is convenience when dealing with customers.

These are just some of the benefits so I believe it is something retailers should seriously consider.

Sky Rota
3 years 1 month ago
Is the employee supposed to Google stuff for the customer on their own cell phone? I don’t understand how they are expecting them to use their own device to help customers. And I don’t see security being an issue. I say NO cell phones at work. Workers are just going to be texting and checking their social media, it’s human nature today. Your employees need to know how to talk to people face to face. That is a skill, especially today when everyone is hiding behind their device. You need to hire people who are outgoing that actually want to approach a customer and help them. I know it is rare to get people like that today but they are the ones who know your stock and will engage your customers. I am a sales person, that is one of my strengths. Since I was little I would sell things to people whether it be bracelets I made or shirts or spinners. I am not the kid who shows up with the pie charts. I’m… Read more »
Ralph Jacobson

In today’s technology environment, you can properly secure personal devices effectively. I have “Fort Knox” security on my personal device that I use for business. Staff needs to simply load the right security software provided by their employer. The bigger challenge is to train staff how to leverage their social media skills (that they may not even be aware that they possess) to the benefit of shoppers to drive incremental revenue. That, too, can be accomplished.

Ed Dunn
3 years 1 month ago

I believe BYOD policy is one of the most important decisions a retailer can make in the 21st century. The barrier and competitive disadvantage for brick-and-mortar against Amazon is that customers do not know how to use the mobile features a retailer can offer.

Sales floor staff can act as ambassadors with their own personal device to show customers how to scan QR codes, how to download the store app and how to provide feedback creating a more authentic touch point to help mobilize customers. Sales floor staff can even recommend the type of mobile phone best compatible with the store.

Personal BYOD can be a strong weapon and competitive advantage for retailers if they realize the advantages outweigh the FUD.

Jeff Miller
This goes back to an age old question about control. Who ultimately has control — the company or the employees? In a retail environment, I don’t see a way for companies to continue to exert the high level of control they may have in the past. I think it obviously varies retailer to retailer and job to job but associates should be allowed to use their own devices but need to be trained on appropriate and safe use that protects them and the company. As a shopper there is nothing more annoying to me than walking into a store and having no one to help or even say hello because they are on their phones head down. Conversely, I was at a large old school electronics retailer and I was able to find the info I needed on their website faster and more efficiently on my phone than the poor guy trying to use their internal systems. Comes back to hiring quality people, training them, holding them accountable and also paying a decent wage to… Read more »
Dan Raftery

If the situation occurs where someone has a question that can only or best be answered with a smart phone, I’m pretty sure most retailers would prefer an employee at the controls versus a shopper. However, there is little worse than an employee caught up in a personal thing on their mobile device. Well, maybe cashiers chatting about their dates last night while scanning your stuff is worse. So, limits need to be enforced.

Dan Frechtling

There is a difference between working and playing with a device. If an associate is using a device to help a shopper, that’s obviously beneficial and far different from texting alone during work hours.

At Home Depot last weekend, an associate pulled out her personal iPhone, cracked screen and all, and one-handedly helped me find item I needed online. Without the device, I would have driven down the street to Lowe’s.

Would I have bought from Home Depot without her mobile help? No. The device extended her service skills. For all I know she may have cracked the screen while juggling help for the last customer.

A store-issued device may be preferable for security and to avoid entertainment distractions. But I agree with Meaghan that a personal device works wonders in the right hands.

Cristian Grossmann

Whether or not to allow BYOD is a hot discussion topic for retailers. We see this question all the time so we actually wrote a white paper about it which can be found here. In a nutshell, BYOD policies have proven to be very effective at increasing productivity and communication as long as pre-established fair play rules are followed. And an absolute MUST is that communication should only be done on a secure server, not just any standard messaging app since coworkers would most likely share private employee, company, or customer data. It’s crucial to use a platform that is compliant with ISO 27001 and GDPR (for those companies working in or with businesses in the EU) because if information is leaked retailers will get slapped with some astronomical fines.

Craig Sundstrom

So 65% of people used to something to “do their job more effectively,” why are we even questioning whether or not this is a good thing? Is it because we think they should do their job LESS effectively, or because we don’t trust their judgement that the assessment was correct? Neither one is a very comforting thought.

Ricardo Belmar
This is really a reflection of the need for store associates to have full access to the information they need to do their jobs and help serve a customer. If the retailer isn’t going to provide associates with the devices and tools they need, what can they expect an associate to do? Most employees want to do a good job and if that means taking out their personal device, no policy stating otherwise is going to stop them from delivering the customer experience they feel their customer deserves. We’ve talked here before about why retailers fail to provide devices to their associates. I’ll focus on my favorite topic on this that’s highlighted in the article — 50% noted that retailer provided devices perform slowly. That’s a significant issue that many retailers fail to address. Associates won’t adopt a device in their daily routine if the applications on it do not perform consistently, reliably, and provide a great user experience. Most retailer store networks and Wi-Fi networks are just not set up to deliver this level… Read more »
Manish Chowdhary

Yes, stores should allow employees to user their mobile devices at work when appropriate.

The ability to service a customer quickly, efficiently & accurately is extremely valuable. If there is a lack of training materials and product information available to associates, it is only going to hurt your customer as well as your Brand. BYOD has become a part of life in the working world today. There need to be specific rules and guidelines in place about what is appropriate for work use of a personal device to protect the customer as well as the employee.

BYOD should not be mandatory for an employee and you should not assume that an employee is willing to use their personal devices for work.

"It’s all about hiring the right employees and being able to trust them. "
"I think the answer depends on the store, how many associates there are and how they benefit from using their own devices."
"There is a difference between working and playing with a device. If an associate is using a device to help a shopper, that’s obviously beneficial..."

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