As Retailers Roll Out Mobile Devices, Maintenance Issues Arise

·5 min read

Industry-wide, handheld mobile devices have become standard issue for millions of store and distribution center workers — but they can be pain points for management.

“They have to replenish them all the time,” said Douglas Baldasare, founder and chief executive officer of ChargeItSpot. “The devices stop functioning. Software updates don’t come through. The WiFi may not be working. There’s hardware damage.

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“Sometimes, there are not enough devices for employees, which leads to huge productivity declines,” said Baldasare. “Lead times to replenish lost devices, or service them, can be six to 12 months.”

Over a recent breakfast in Manhattan, Baldasare explained the technology solution developed by his company for mitigating the man hours and costs involved in maintaining handheld devices. The 11-year-old, Philadelphia-based ChargeItSpot provides cell phone charging stations to stores and malls, and last September, launched a self-service kiosk for securing, charging and monitoring employee handheld devices in warehouses and retail stores, called ARC, or “asset recharge center.”

Employees use mobile devices to aid productivity and efficiency, and to streamline the supply chain flow, particularly in light of the bottlenecks at ports. Workers in distribution centers use the handhelds for picking and packing of online orders; store associates use them for inventory information, price checks, mobile payment processing, and accessing information for clienteling. Zebra, Honeywell, Samsung, Veriphone are some of the major providers of these handheld devices. Aside from retailers, logistics companies like FedEx and UPS, and other sectors use them.

“Think about the tight labor market,” Baldasare said. “It’s hard to find workers to hire so it’s really important that employers make the most of the workforce they have.”

The time and money involved in their maintenance of handhelds are not necessarily anticipated, and Baldasare contends that “solutions to effectively manage, trace and secure company-owned devices in the workplace are few and far between.” Devices are typically kept in backrooms where managers waste time overseeing manual sign-in and sign-out processes. When a device gets lost, there’s a cybersecurity risk. “In more or less 95 percent of the cases, employees who use handhelds are required to store and charge devices on premise at the retailer, warehouse or distribution center,” though sometimes with high-end stores, associates do take home the handhelds to facilitate round-the-clock clienteling, Baldasare said.

Douglas Baldasare
Douglas Baldasare

ChargeitSpot’s cell-phone charging stations for consumers, called “SmartScreen,” enable shoppers to recharge and sanitize their cell phones in secured lockers while they browse and shop the selling floors. Baldasare said there are currently ChargeItSpot charging stations in about 200 Targets, 25 Bloomingdale’s stores, 30 Nordstrom locations, and 90 Under Armour stores, among others. Each store would have one to six SmartScreen units.

ARC is a self-service kiosk, requiring no manager oversight, where employees pick up and store hand-held devices in lockers. To pop open the door to the locker, employees have badges with bar codes that get scanned, or they can enter their employee ID into the system. The devices get charged up inside the lockers via connecting cables. The system determines which locker door pops open based on which device is most charged and ready to be used, which helps avoid a handheld device running out of power midway through a worker’s shift, requiring the worker to swap for another device. There is a touchscreen to report operating issues or damages with the devices.

“With ARC, when the employee returns a device, they’re asked to immediately report any device issues,” Baldasare said. “We then prevent that faulty device from going back into circulation, alert headquarters to (provide) a new device to that location, and alert the local manager to repair or send back the device.”

If an employee fails to return the device to the system within 24 hours, the worker’s name shows up on a report to the manager.

So far, Comoto/Revzilla, an e-commerce business operating distribution centers; the University of Mass Memorial Health Care; a big-box retailer, a digitally native food delivery business and an apparel firm, which Baldasare declined to name, have deployed ARC kiosks. They come in three sizes; the smallest with 24 lockers, a midsize version with 48 lockers and the largest kiosk contains 96 lockers. ChargeItSpot leases the hardware, typically for three to five years, and provides software maintenance, data reporting and connectivity. The stations range in size from 7.5 feet to 15 feet wide, and are all six feet tall and 14 inches deep.

ChargeItSpot has raised $25 million in funding since 2012 and has 130 employees. The company also has a network of 110 independent technicians contracted to service the ARC kiosks.

Prior to starting ChargeItSpot, Baldasare was an executive at The NewsMarket, a digital marketing firm backed by Apax Partners, Softbank Capital and Battery Ventures, where he was director of sales in London and later in Beijing as director of the Asia-Pacific division. He also has experience at Amazon and Interbrand.

Citing data from Statista and interviews with ARC clients, Baldasare said an estimated 15 million handheld devices are used in retail to fulfill orders and move products, representing an industry investment of nearly $20 billion. At any given moment, 30 percent of a company’s devices are missing, broken, have dead batteries or not properly charged for employee use.

“It’s all due to inefficient management processes,” Baldasare said.

A ChargeItSpot cell phone charging station at Under Armour.
A ChargeItSpot cell phone charging station at Under Armour.

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