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How to Avoid Store Tech Rollout Horror Stories

man frustrated due to tech rollout
With every new sensor, digital display and mobile device, retailers are digitally enriching their stores to create a better customer experience. But each piece of technology adds complexity, especially in networked environments. What works in the isolation of a lab can be brought to its knees by untold numbers of factors in the rugged and increasingly technology-enhanced retail store. That’s why it’s critical that every new rollout go through a complete proof-of-concept, pilot and full scale implementation process.

It can be tempting to skip a step, especially for an upgrade or replacement of an existing product. Retailers do it all the time. In fact, one large retailer swapping out new mobile devices did just that. The replacement handhelds did great in the lab, so they skipped the proof of concept and dove right into installation at the first store, with a team of more than 25 project managers and support techs all lined up to quickly follow with a long list of installs.

And then nothing worked.

Turns out the radios in the newer models were not compatible with the access points in the store. The project was delayed for over four months as they worked out the issue ― which would have turned up in the proof of concept.

Here is what should happen at each step:

Proof of Concept

Most tech projects start in a lab. But even the most decked-out tech lab cannot completely duplicate a production environment. The wiring, network conditions, volume, and so on, are not the same. Maybe there is a dentist office next door to a store location that degrades the network every time they take an x-ray.

In a proof of concept, the new solution moves from the lab into a real store, where the engineers and other team members are all on hand to watch how the solution behaves and can take action on the spot to correct the issues that emerge. The team can measure the impact of the solution, compare it to project goals ― also called critical success factors ― and assure that the new solution is meeting them.


Once the proof of concept works out the kinks, pilots allow the solution to rollout to a small number of stores to see if it works at scale. The big difference is in staff: This time the engineers aren’t standing around to study and act on problems. This is a test of how the solution works largely on its own.

One retail project that sailed through proof of concept involved installing new 7-foot equipment cabinets to each store. Unlike the proof of concept store, though, the first pilot store lacked the lift gate that would allow the driver to get the bulky cabinet into the building. Rescheduling all those deliveries to ensure the right equipment and staff to overcome loading dock issues would have been a nightmare if the retailer had skipped the pilot and gone right to rollout.

The pilot also validates that these sorts of implementation processes are repeatable and sustainable. If not, it’s time to rework the solution and revisit the project plan to make the needed corrections.

Full Scale Implementation

When the proof of concept and pilot phases follow solid best practices, full scale implementations run more smoothly. But there are nuances to how to best plan and execute this step as well. For example, instead of taking the number of stores, dividing evenly and planning a uniform number of rollouts per week, it’s better to start smaller and then scale up. Early installs have lessons to teach about how to accomplish later implementations in a more streamlined way, so momentum picks up. The project can be completed in the same timeframe, but this way usually gets better results.

Expertise Smooths Out the Kinks

That’s one example of the insights retailers gain when they engage a systems integrator early on in the project. Solution implementations are more than just technology. They also involve timing, scheduling, success criteria, support plans, and using best practices. For example, what’s the best way to capture what is learned at each stage and communicate it to all affected parties? What have other retailers done when encountering a similar hurdle? With so many new technologies trying to operate in already complex retail store networks, it is systems integrators who are getting a fast education on what works and what doesn’t. Retailers benefit from that experience.

Retailers only get one chance to impress the customer with a cool new tech solution. By skipping project steps, they are rolling the dice on ensuring their investment meets business goals. Breaking solution implementation into three steps mitigates risk and ensures new technologies deliver the brand experience the way the retailer designed it.

Are you ready to take a new approach to your next technology deployment? Contact us today to get started.

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