Four Retail Inventory Management App Best Practices

Four Retail Inventory Management App Best Practices

Starting Your Inventory Management App Off Right

When designing a retail inventory management app, it’s crucial to do a lot of heavy lifting in the preliminary stages of design to ensure that the transition from the client’s old system to their new retail app is seamless, intuitive, and incorporates just what they need to get the job done right. From concept to delivery, the retail inventory app design process requires research, attention to detail, inspiration, testing, and refining. By keeping the following tips in mind during the design process, you can be sure to deliver a quality app that your client and their employees will love. Here are four best practices to develop an effective retail inventory management app:

  1. Do Your Homework on the Client’s Needs
  2. Find out What the App Users Need
  3. Create an Inspired, Intuitive Design
  4. Test Your Design, and Redesign as Necessary

Now, let’s look at each best practice in more depth.

Best Practice 1.) Do Your Homework on the Client’s Needs

Prior to diving into a design project, it’s important to ask the right questions in order to understand 1) why the business prioritized this project, 2) the process/tasks employees are being asked to do, and which parts are the most challenging, and 3) how the system (including APIs) works in order to design around limitations or suggest changes accordingly. These questions are crucial, along with other obvious questions, like what equipment/device does the client foresee using, how many stores do they have, how many employees will be using this solution, who has admin privileges, and how will admin use differs from that of general employees? This initial info-gathering stage is key in the design process because having the team and the stakeholders “in the know” is necessary when making a polished, efficient, and effective app that everyone is proud of.   design_agile_shockoe

Best Practice 2.) Find out What the App Users Need 

Once you’re confident with the client-provided requirements data, the interview process should transition from the stakeholders to their employees. Sitting behind a screen, it can be easy to gloss over seemingly minor details, but those minor details can impact the people on the other end and affect their job performance daily. By focusing on details such as how the user will input data to the app and how they will maneuver around in it, you will be able to design a new system that will be effective and intuitive for all users and will replace outdated systems that might require quirky shortcuts and workarounds. Vital to this step is gathering client data, studying the data, and researching and implementing said research, all the while incorporating your interview results with the employees/users. If you don’t understand their procedures, keep the dialogue going until you understand their daily routine, in order to provide them with the solutions they’re looking for. app-user-needs

Best Practice 3.) Create an Inspired, Intuitive Design

Once you have all the details worked out, start working out the app flow. Put the pen to the paper, the markers on the whiteboard, and let the heavy brainstorms pour inspired innovative ideas. This process will require multiple iterations and failures so you can reach the holy grail of design solutions for your client. In order to achieve this level of design fruition, you will need to research design trends (Pinterest, Dribbble, Behance), your client’s app (if they have one), and their competitors’ apps (if they have them). Expand your design horizon outside of your comfort zone. Don’t be satisfied with safe designs; mediocre designs don’t break any new ground or impress clients. That being said, try not to reinvent the wheel either. It’s great to have inspiration, but it’s up to you to be innovative while also staying intuitive. user stories - inventory management app

Best Practice 4.) Test Your Design, and Redesign as Necessary

Now that you have shiny, impressive, and modern designs, it’s time to test. Your design has to exceed expectations. So, even though you’ve interviewed a variety of people, researched every corner of Google, and spent countless hours in Sketch, Xd, or your design app of choice, you still need to test the app out. The testing results will likely incur some redesigns, as any good test would. It’s important to ensure that the user flow makes sense, which is why you’ll test your prototypes with the client’s employees. Remember, these employees are the experts in their job field. They know what they need to complete their job successfully and what will make their day-to-day work routine more efficient. Listen to their every complaint, concern, and compliment. Redesigns can be fun. They often make us rethink what we thought we knew or understood. This could be a eureka moment for a designer, their team, and possibly the client. At most, it should only require some simple, but effective, design tweaks in order for the user to know what’s what. So tweak away, tighten it up, and bust out of your design bubble. Find the sweet spot everyone’s looking for and apply your groundbreaking ideas to your designs. Finally, make sure any, and I mean any, users will know how your designs work—intuitively.

inventory-management-app

Key Points for Retail Inventory Apps 

Be sure to keep these points in mind when designing an app for retail inventory solutions:

  • Listen: The stakeholders typically have a good idea of what they’re looking for.
  • Answer these essential questions:
    • Why does the business (client) want this inventory app? Know their KPI (Very important!)
    • How does the system currently work? (APIs and integration)
    • What are the client’s current pain points? (This is where we can REALLY help, by improving on what doesn’t currently work.)
    • What works? (What do employees like about the current system?)
    • What type of equipment are you designing the inventory app for? (What type of device will employees use to access the app? Will they need a sling or a harness if they’re unloading a truck?)
    • What is the client’s budget? (A necessary evil.)
  • Follow up. Have constant communication and keep everyone in the loop. Interview the client’s employees to make sure you’re including everything they need to do their job well.
  • Prototype your designs, and see what works and what might need to be tweaked or rethought to make the app intuitive and easy to use.
  • There’s always room for improving the design until you get it right.

Look Towards the Future Once your super-powered retail inventory app is developed, there will be updates, which require continued communication between you and the client. It’s your job (and ours) to help clients succeed. When our clients are successful, so are we. Together, we can conquer the world—one app at a time. Editor’s Note:  If you’re interested in reading about our most recent work for a retailer, check out A.C. Moore Case Study and the Inventory Management App our team has created for this retailer’s team. Watch the full Case Study Video for A.C. Moore below. ac-moore-inventory-management-app-video

We Hear You Loud And Clear – Speech Recognition

We Hear You Loud And Clear – Speech Recognition

The Road to Here

In our fast-paced society we consistently push the limits of technology and human computer interaction. The pace only continues to quicken in the mad rush of innovation. Today it is likely safe to assume that your company’s employees and customers expect the same.

First came the days when you needed a website to be current. It wasn’t long before static websites moved to dynamic content and web apps started to mature. Then we gradually transitioned to the Golden Age of the App. If you had an app your IT staff could check that block.

With the app ecosystem starting to become saturated you need more innovation and personalization to differentiate yourself and to give the ease of use the is demanded out of top-notch apps. Enter Speech Recognition.

Speech recognition’s future goes back quite a way too.

Hollywood has used Speech Recognition to thrill and excited us with memorable scenes including

  • IronMan – Jarvis
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey – HAL 2000
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation – The ship’s computer

Speech Recognition has actually been around for quite some time, but it was quite limited in scope. The proliferation of mobile phones and the maturation of Speech Recognition software and neural networks has made this a completely different ball game now. There is speculation that 2017 is the year of Voice Recognition. The error rate has dropped from 43% in 1995 to only 6.3% this year and is now on par with humans.

gartner_switchboard_dnn_breakthrough_2

Source: Benchmarks: Comparison of different architectures on TIMIT and large vocabulary tasks

Voice Search: Usage Increasing Quickly

  

Ways to Interact With Voice

There are a handful of different ways that you can utilize voice interactions to build your user experience. Which methods you choose are largely dependant on your existing assets and infrastructure, and what you want to accomplish.

Voice Assistants: Siri, Google Now, Cortana

  • Siri / Google Now Integration
  • Users are familiar with this method of interaction
  • Some limitations exist

Alexa / Google Home

  • Rapid increase in sales of voice recognition hardware
  • Requires voice-only interactions
  • Custom In-App Voice
  • Engage your app users while they are using the app
  • Must handle Natural Language Processing yourself

Web-Based Voice Recognition

  • Enable voice commands for repetitive tasks

Voice Assistants: Siri, Google Now, Cortana

The Voice Assistants of yesteryear have grown up and have added a late addition to the party. They provide some cool and genuinely useful tools and integrations – but their use doesn’t stop there. Siri and Google’s assistants have opened up their platforms a bit, and Cortana is getting ready to. There are a lot of good options to integrate with these assistants

Siri

SiriKit enables your iOS 10 apps to work with Siri, so users can get things done with your content and services using just their voice. Currently they only offer interactions with the following “intents” or capabilities:

  • VoIP Calling
  • Messaging
  • Payments
  • Photos
  • Workouts
  • Ride Booking
  • CarPlay
  • Restaurant Reservations

You can find more information out at Apple’s SiriKit Programming Guide.

A pretty safe bet is that Apple is in the process of opening up custom actions, largely in response to market demands.

OK Google / Google Now / Google Assistant

Google Voice Actions come in two flavors:

System Actions include the following intents that you can integrate with:

  • Alarm
  • Communication
  • Fitness
  • Local
  • Media
  • Open
  • Productivity
  • Search

There are a lot of things that Google Voice Actions already recognize. This website is a great way to discover what’s possible.

You can define Custom Actions to support additional use cases.

Currently, custom actions are only available on GoogleHome and Pixel. Other devices will follow soon.

Cortana

From basic mobile deep links to full integration of your bots and services, the skills kit provides all the tools and docs you need to promote your services and engage users through the Cortana experience.
Once created, your skill works wherever your code runs. By registering your bots, services, mobile apps, and websites as Cortana skills, over 145 million active monthly users will be connected to these capabilities.
People can interact with your skills in various ways. Cortana can offer a skill based on a natural language request during a conversation, or proactively present a skill based on a user’s preferences and context.

Look for the Cortana Skills Kit preview in early 2017.

The Cortana Skills Kit will allow developers to:

  • Leverage bots created with the Microsoft Bot Framework and publish them to Cortana as a new skill
  • Integrate their web services as skills and re-purpose code from their existing Alexa skills to create Cortana skills
  • Connect users to skills when users ask, and proactively present skills to users in the appropriate context
  • Personalize their users’ experiences by leveraging Cortana’s understanding of users’ preferences and context, based on user permissions

Cortana has apps on both iOS and Android

Alexa / Google Home

The New Kids on the Block

Google Home and Amazon Echo (Alexa) are one more outlet to digitally interact with your customers. Furthermore, it is an extension to your digital brand outside of the app, still enhancing and simplifying your customer’s lives while connecting with them through digital means.

The Echo and Home are more than just speakers – they are built to help users at home, the location where the shopping experience begins. Both Alexa and Home can integrate with backend services allowing you to extend your brand. Although the market is still young, integrating with these devices can prove to be very beneficial.

Pros

  • Users are already familiar with voice control
  • They are invested in the platform
  • Development platform capabilities are strong

Cons

  • Voice only interaction, called Voice User Interface (VUI)

Alexa Voice Services (Amazon Echo)

  • Offer the most robust development tools
  • Strongly positioned in the market
  • Shipped 5MM units, expects to double this in 2017
  • Best external voice controlled device currently

Alexa Voice Services: Under the hood

  • User Flow
  • Alexa Skills Kit Architecture
  • Alexa Skills

Google Home

Google Home is a Wi-Fi speaker that also works as a smarthome control center and an assistant for the whole family. You can use it to playback entertainment throughout your entire house, effortlessly manage every-day tasks, and ask Google what you want to know.

In-App Speech Recognition

Bring Your Own Voice (BYOV)
There are a variety of voice interaction points between the user and the app. Triggering voice interactions from within the app offer a unique method to engage your users

Pros

  • Enhanced capabilities, less limitations
  • Continue the voice conversation inside of the app

Cons

  • Rolling your own solution takes expertise in several areas. If you are want smart features that resemble a voice assistant you will have to figure out how to handle
  • Voice recognition
  • Understanding intent
  • Triggering responses
  • Voice replies

iOS
Here is Apple’s library to enable Speech Recognition

Android
Here is Android’s library to enable Speech Recognition

Web-Based Voice Recognition

Circling back around to where we began – we can’t leave web based voice recognition out of the equation. If you are using Chrome or Firefox you have noticed that this page supports Speech Recognition. This capability comes from the Web Speech API. Of particular note it also handles Speech Synthesis.

This has been possible for several years now but it hasn’t been put to much good use. Web-based voice recognition shares a lot of similarity with in-app voice recognition in that you have to handle everything yourself.

Voice User Interface (VUI)

A corpus of research has shown that people infer personality traits from even the briefest voice interactions. Voice is a form of Human Computer Interaction (HCI) that does exactly what the name infers: Humanizes the interactions. Because of this it is important that you take special consideration of how you communicate with the user.

Although much good advice for Graphical User Interfaces (GUIs) may apply, don’t try to simply convert your GUI into a VUI. There’s a lot more to think about.

Here are some tips for conversations, from Google about Google Assistant: (Video)

Create a persona: The “face” of the company.

  • Leverage your brand.
  • List brand core attributes that can be conveyed in voice
  • Bio-sketch of this user, perhaps give it a name
  • Serves as a grounding mechanism to fall back on for consistency
  • Define yourself as separate from the Google Assistant
  • Greet the user

Think outside the box

  • Don’t start with code
  • Write out core experiences like you would a screenplay
  • Keep it simple

Context matters

  • Where is the user?
  • Where are they?
  • What are they doing?
  • What type of device are they acting on?
  • How is the experience influenced over time?
  • Cater to the user’s intent, not a feature

In Conversation there are no Errors

  • There are limitations, but recognize them for what they are
  • Take voice input “errors” and make them into a meaningful conversation
  • Look at the interaction from the user’s perspective

Think bigger

  • Starting simple is good but…
  • Don’t limit yourself here.
  • Help somebody gain access to information that they didn’t have before

Communication is Key

If you can communicate well, you will engage and even entertain. But it’s not clear sailing from here on out because dealing with voice interactions a lot is going on.

  • Voice Activation
  • Speech Recognition & Transcription
  • Intent and Meaning
  • Data Search & Query
  • Speech Response

Additional References for Voice Design

Voice Design

Case Studies

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