Back in the day, before Facebook, Twitter or Instagram had even been conceived of (how on earth did we survive without them?) I used to spend my days in Croydon, running IT Operations at Superdrug.
Although many, many years before that, I had my first job in retail, this was really where my retail journey began and along with Wincor Beetle POS hardware, I recall that we were fully paid up members of the Symbol barcode scanner fan club. And along with a handful of IBM servers, together with the aforementioned POS kit, that was essentially what we ran the business on.
So, it was fitting that over twenty years later, Zebra Technologies should invite myself and a handful of other retail analysts to meet their senior team and take a tour of the Zebra Experience Centre.
And if, like me, you had Zebra stubbornly filed under ‘the printer and scanner people’, be prepared for something of an epiphany.
A technology company attempting to reinvent itself is nothing new, especially one which has grown a strong reputation out of hardware sales. However, the journey doesn’t come without a number of obstacles, not least of which is convincing a traditionally – let’s face it – often cynical retail audience to accept a new persona. But that is exactly what Zebra are attempting to do: navigate the road from hardware to SaaS.
However, in a retail landscape under constant and frantic change, doing this without losing sight of those roots is not the work of a moment. But nevertheless, Zebra’s capabilities are growing into an enticing proposition for retailers.
Automation in the form of SmartLens uses RFID to allow for tracking of every asset in a store whilst Zebra SmartSight robotics provides what Zebra refer to as ‘store intelligence’ to identify shelf issues and ensure compliance.
As would be expected Zebra continues to develop warehouse picking solutions, including new heads up eyewear meaning the picker always has both hands free. Zebra claim that this increases productivity by up to 30%.
But perhaps one of the more obvious clues to their aspirations is to be found in last year’s acquisition of Reflexis, who have grown a reputation for providing SaaS workforce management solutions. What once may have been something of a challenge to contextualise a barcode scanner with workforce management now becomes clear.
Because Zebra’s vision is that every asset and every worker should be visible, connected and optimally utilised. Which, when you think about it, makes perfect sense in the maelstrom of retail that every brand and retailer now face.
It is clearly a journey and I suspect that there will be further acquisitions along the way. However, the challenge on the evidence of this, is to join the dots and bring the multiple parts of the portfolio together to create a seamless, cohesive retail solution built around outcomes, not tech.
The good news is that they are well on their way and deserve great credit. The real challenge however will be convincing virtually every retailer on the high street who use their scanners and printers, that there’s so much more in the box to enjoy.