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How The Container Store uses wearable tech to think outside the box

Al Sacco | March 7, 2014
The Container Store is piloting a wearable device that it hopes will replace the thousands of walkie talkies it uses for in-store communication. The wearable also lets the company track employees when they're at work, among other things, and could potentially revolutionize the way it uses technology for retail.

The Theatro wearable uses Wi-Fi triangulation to locate users in range of the network. One staffer could ask the device, "Where is Al?" and the system would find that user and respond, "Al is in kitchen."

The gadgets are shared; they're not exclusive to individuals. Right now, there's no security or authentication measures, either. "We don't think there's a loss prevention issue at this point, because you're not able to do anything else with the system with that information," Thrailkill says.

Why Wearables at The Container Store?
Those ancient walkie-talkies may not be pretty, but they work. So why is The Container Store embracing the Theatro Wearable Computer?

Thrailkill says the wearable does everything a walkie-talkie can and more. It also makes communication between staffers much more efficient and reduces unnecessary noise and distractions.

The Container Store worked with Theatro to measure walkie-talkie use in the Austin store and compare it to how staffers used the wearable. They found that the total number of messages each wearable user hears in a given day is about 60 percent less than before launching the Theatro system. But the overall number of messages going across the store network is about 30 percent higher, according to Thrailkill.

"We see more communication, but less of it going to everybody," Thrailkill says. "This means less fatigue, less taking the ear piece out because it's bothering you while talking to a customer."

The wearable devices are also much smaller and less obtrusive than two-way radios. Plus, they're voice controlled, so they require less physical interaction. (Voice commands are also customizable. Theatro programs custom commands today, but in the future users may be able to create and change their own commands.)

Another feature that sets the Theatro wearable apart from walkie-talkies is the ability to create customizable groups and communicate only with specific people. For example, Thrailkill says, on a given day you can create a group of register salespeople and subscribe people to that group instantly. "While that group is active, we can send messages just to that group."

The Container Store also envisions a time when they will be able to create company-wide groups of subject matter experts.

"If I'm working with a customer in a store and I have a question about travel products, I could reach out to that expert group in real-time and get answers from somebody across the company," Thrailkill says. "To me, that's the real power of this being networked; it allows you to leverage the knowledge base across stores."

Thrailkill says he considered deploying smartphones for communication, but because of the desire to avoid a distracting display, prohibitive costs and other concerns, he ultimately decided the wearable is a better fit — at least for now.


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