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Motorola's CA50 combines mobile VoIP with barcode scanning to cut lost sales

Part barcode scanner, part mobile VoIP phone, Motorola's CA50 connects retail sales associates with the information customers need.

Retailers looking to hang up on lost sales might have a new tool in the Motorola CA50, a combination of barcode scanner and Wi-Fi VoIP phone in a small, simplified form factor. As many companies seek to deploy mobile VoIP in 2008 to boost productivity and cut response times, the CA50 might be able to fill that need by delivering specific information needed to make a sale without many frills.

Motorola is touting the device as a way of getting customers to the right associate with the right information -- right away. For example, an associate can scan the barcode of a dress and instantly tell a customer how many are in stock, in what sizes and colors, and can call another branch store that has a better fit, all without leaving the customer's side.

Such personal attention and rapid response can be a huge money maker. In a Motorola-sponsored study of 1,300 shoppers, customers who left a store because of lack of information took with them an average of $115 in lost sales, and 90% of those customers did not return to the store, opting to buy elsewhere or skip the purchase altogether.

"For starters, this device could be the tipping point for handhelds in stores," said Cathy Hotka, a retail industry veteran and consultant with Cathy Hotka & Associates in Washington, D.C. She said many retailers have not yet deployed handhelds owing to lack of features, and the CA50 provides the critical information needed to close a sale. She also cited a December 2006 Wharton School of Business study which found that for every $10 a customer spent, another $2.40 went unspent because the customer couldn't find a product or sufficient information about it.

The device, whose base price is $540, is powered by software developed by Avaya Inc.

"One of the things that we can do is take a UPC scan, and the first inquiry is a price check or inventory," said Marissa Russotto, director of Avaya's industry solutions group. "And then if there's a reason to validate that information, we will receive the mapping that we've developed, to find the product expert based on UPC code. It could be a person's name, a phone number, or it could be a supplier."

Based on the initial inquiry's context, the retail employee can then make a call on the device: For example, if a router is scanned, the employee can call an off-site expert call center with questions about installation and capabilities.

Retailers load the UPC information into central servers, which then communicate and connect with the devices via Wi-Fi.

The phones can receive calls as well, reducing the need for public address paging to track down the right person, although their ability to call out is purposely limited to cut out personal use and keep employees customer-focused. Increasing customer face-time and responsiveness were key goals, so the device is designed for quick, information-driven conversations. The form factor doesn't hurt, either.

"All of these functions are consolidated into one device, so [associates] don't have to have a tool belt walking around," Russotto said. The size of a cell phone, the CA50 weighs a little under 4 ounces and can be worn on a lanyard. It has a black-and-white LED screen to display information and options, but it lacks a traditional phone keypad, instead having just five buttons in order to reduce training and keep employees customer-focused.

In addition to the retail sector, the CA50 is being pitched to hospitals, as a way to improve patient tracking and increase accuracy, and to the management companies of sports and entertainment venues. The device will be available in March.

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