Small and specialty mall retailers will be able to use wireless LAN technology to tap into the same kind of back-end inventory management and pricing application used by large department stores through a project launched on Tuesday by MerchantWired and Symbol Technologies.
Symbol will help build a wireless LAN backbone in the 300-plus malls operated by a consortium of property companies that owns MerchantWired, including Simon Property Group, The Rose Co., Truman Centers Inc. and Urban Retail Properties Inc., according to Cameron Cole, MerchantWired's vice president of marketing.
Symbol will also provide the retailers with wireless devices equipped with bar code scanners and credit card readers to help manage inventory and process checkouts, Cole said.
The wireless network, in turn, is tied to back-end computer systems operated by MerchantWired at its Indianapolis headquarters. These systems will host applications developed by Symbol and other application service providers, which will provide small retailers with the same computing horsepower and applications used by large department store chains.
Frank Riso, Symbol's director of marketing for retail and logistics, said the new wireless system will make it easy for small retailers to access the kinds of applications "that they do not have the resources to develop on their own."
Cole called the ability to remotely process checkouts over a wireless LAN a "line-busting" technique that will provide specialty retailers with the technology to quickly serve customers at crunch times, such as during the December holiday season.
Peter Jarich, an analyst at Strategis Group, said the shared wireless network MerchantWired and Symbol plans to develop "opens up a lot of opportunities to provide interesting applications." He added that the wireless checkout application should "clear up a major nightmare for retailers at peak business times."
Although primarily intended to serve the mall merchants, Cole said the wireless LANs could also be adapted to provide high-speed public Internet access service to mall shoppers equipped with handhelds or laptop computers capable of wireless connections. "This would provide a mall operator with a value-added, revenue-generating service," Cole said.
Riso said retailers can select the wireless device best suited to their requirements, as Symbol offers wireless access devices that operate on the DOS, Palm and Windows CE operating systems.
MerchantWired and Symbol intend to pilot the wireless LAN system in 10 malls this summer, rolling it out later to the other properties owned by MerchantWired's backers.