Apple and IBM Release New Retail Apps

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Screen Shot 2014-12-10 at 11.33.19 AMLast summer, Apple and IBM announced a partnership to develop hundreds of new business applications exclusively for iOS devices. The fruits of the partnership, which were released this morning, include a handful of productivity and sales applications that could compete with a thriving category of startups selling software to brick-and-mortar retailers.

Consider the “Pick and pack” application, a service aimed at helping retailers manage the growing demand for in-store pickup functionality. Built on a retailer’s store inventory data, the app allows salespeople to create a list of items need for in-store pickup and then uses beacons to provide  in-store navigation to each product throughout the store.

"Pick and Pack" helps retailers manage in-store pickup.
The “Pick and Pack” app helps retailers manage in-store pickup.

The firms also released a sales management tool for the iPad intended to help salespeople manage the sales process and upsell shoppers on additional goods . The app, called Sales Assist, ties into a retailer’s CRM and uses to Apple iBeacon to identify and locate shoppers, who presumably have downloaded the retailers app, in store. During the sales process, the application provides data on past purchases, suggests recommended items, locates items in store, and allows salesperson to ship an out-of-stock item to customer.

“Retailers must go beyond just deploying mobile devices and introduce a new breed of mobile applications that incorporate the operational and analytical components necessary to truly  enable meaningful consumer and employee interactions,” Jill Puleri, global retail industry leader at IBM Global Business Solutions said in a release.

The applications undoubtedly pick up on some exciting themes in retail, but will face many of the same roadblocks facing the startup community. The most pressing issue is that both the sales and store pick-up service rely on fairly advanced back-office systems to supply the data to drive the applications — software that many retailers have yet to implement.

IBM has remained surprisingly quiet as the business software market for brick-and-mortar companies has exploded. The company’s Rival Oracle paid $5.3 billion earlier this year to acquire point-of-sale firm Micros. Meanwhile, cloud computing upstarts have started to push beyond small business to serve the larger brands that form the foundation of the legacy firm’s customer base. In September, Revel Systems scored a deal to provide point-of-sale software to the Smoothie King, a 700-location franchise.

Don’t be surprised if the century-old firm acquires one of the many cloud-based point-of-sale firms.

Steven Jacobs is Street Fight’s deputy editor.