October 17, 2012, 12:57 PM

A top global software company builds mobile products for retailers

New SAP releases help consumers shop in store and merchants manage data and inventory.

Lead Photo

Business software provider SAP AG, one of the world’s largest suppliers of software for managing inventory, accounting and other retail operations, is adapting to the mobile revolution. Earlier this month the vendor released mobile products and apps for ordering products from suppliers, compiling customer analytics for demand forecasting and personalizing in-store shopping.

“Mobile is the next desktop,” says Ziv Baum, solution manger with the wholesale distribution industry business unit at SAP. “It is one of the pillars of SAP’s strategy going forward.”

While the applications retailers will use for ordering and analyzing data are mobile extensions of existing SAP modules, the in-store mobile app for customers, called SAP Precision Retailing, is a new technology for the company, according to Herve Pluche, vice president, retail consumer mobile initiative, SAP Labs. The application, built on SAP’s cloud- or Internet-based NetWeaver technology platform, was designed with personalization technology to provide timely, relevant information designed to encourage shoppers to purchase, he says.

In a trial with the Casino Group’s grocery stores in France, a shopper using the  retailer’s mobile app integrated with SAP’s Precision Retailing content management engine can, as she approaches a store, click her mobile device to view the top 10 offers most relevant to her interests, Pluche says. When she is inside the store, the app acts like a shopping list, helping her to make sure she buys everything she needs as well as suggesting complementary or alternative products, he says. For example, the app may ask a consumer buying chips if she’d also like salsa, or suggest Sunkist juice if the Tropicana she was looking for is out of stock, he says. Eventually the app will also include a shopping cart and mobile wallet that would let the shopper make the purchase from within the app.

Beauty products retailer L’Oreal also tested the app, using it to turn print advertising into an interactive multimedia campaign designed to drive store traffic, Pluche says. When a consumer scans a print ad with her smartphone, the app recognizes a product’s image and pushes related offers to the shopper, he says. The offers are for in-store discounts or services, such as a makeup session.

Another test in the suburbs of Montreal allows commuters to scan print ads in train stations for the small stores in and around subway stations to receive discounts and store and product information, Pluche says. The app also highlights any fare specials or other relevant travel information to commuters, he says.

On the business side, the SAP ERP Customer Order Entry app is designed to let retail managers use iPhones to order products from distributors. For example, a store owner can stand in the back room and select items he needs to restock through the app, which includes inventory and price information, from his wholesale distributor, and click to place an order; the app also remembers which items the retailer ordered in the past to allow two-click reordering, Baum says. ERP refers to enterprise resource planning, a suite of accounting and planning software offered by SAP and such competitors as Oracle Corp., Microsoft Corp. and NetSuite Inc.

The mobile ordering app is also designed to save operating costs for distributors, of which SAP has more than 9,000 in its client base, by cutting down on the number of customer service agents they need to take orders, Baum says. SAP plans to release additional apps for mobile operating systems that support devices other than the iPhone, though the company declines to say when.

SAP's rapid-deployment team has also released SAP Planning for Retail app, an analytics tool that compiles data on shopping activity and sales across multiple retailing channels, including mobile, web and stores. It takes advantage of the company’s data-crunching technology called HANA to analyze large volumes of transactional retail data and serve up reports on consumer demand and seasonal sales forecasts, the company says. The analytics reports now are available to retail managers on mobile devices as well as computers.

SAP’s extensive technology foundation facilitated its rolling out a wide array of new mobile tools all at once, according to experts. “The breadth of capabilities ready to go under the SAP umbrella is significant in the marketplace, as most competitors have produced POS and CRM or inventory and order management capabilities first,” says Leslie Hand, an analyst covering mobility at research firm ICD Retail Insights. POS, or point of sale, refers to transactional technologies, for example the checkout, and CRM, or customer relationship management, refers to technologies used for call centers, live chat, feedback forms and other customer service-related tasks.

Germany-based SAP claims at least 195,000 companies in more than 120 countries use its software and related services. Seven retailers in the Internet Retailer Top 500 list SAP as their order management vendor, two list it for fulfillment and one each for e-commerce platform hosting, customer service software and customer relationship management.

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