Merchant Innovation

Home Depot's Custom Smartphone Does Inventory And MPOS

Home Depot has almost finished rolling out 40,000 of its custom FIRST Phone smartphones to in-store employees -- and the new-generation devices are slowly beginning to line up with industry standards, according to employee descriptions of the phones.

The home-improvement chain rolled out the first generation of FIRST Phones in 2010 for store associates to use in locating products, checking inventory levels and using as either phones or walkie-talkies, Mobile Commerce Daily reported. Those were ruggedized, heavily customized devices with a proprietary operating system that Home Depot rolled out at same time other retailers were beginning to put off-the-shelf Apple devices (usually the iPod Touch) in the hands of salespeople.

Two generations later, Home Depot is still using customized devices (made by Zebra Technologies, which bought the Motorola unit that made made previous versions of the phones). But now they run Android and have a more modern user interface, employees who have used the new phones said on an online forum.

The new phones, which began arriving in users' hands last summer, have improved battery life and specially designed laser-equipped scanners for reading product barcodes. The reader "sports two crazy bright LEDs and an enormous laser crosshair that allows you to scan in complete darkness, at an angle, and from considerably further away," said one employee who used the new device last year.

The phones also include mag-stripe payment-card readers, which in earlier generations of the device were intended to let them be used as mobile POS for in-aisle checkout if necessary. With the improved scanner, the new version is actually designed to be used for checking out customers in outdoor garden areas of Home Depot stores on a regular basis.

It's not clear when -- or whether -- this generation of devices will be upgraded to support EMV chip chards. Last September, Home Depot's then-CEO, Frank Blake, told an investment conference that all Home Depot stores would be able to take EMV payment cards by the end of 2014.

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