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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.

"We'd much rather have employees engaging with customers verbally than the two of them looking at a screen together, somebody touching the screen and punching information," Thrailkill says. "'Heads up' versus 'heads down' is how we put it."

The simplicity of the wearable is its main advantage, according to Thrailkill.

"You're not having to grab a device, swipe it, put in a passcode and open up an application to then be able to enter a command," he says. "You're just touching the device and then saying a command, and you're able to do it right away. With how much communication we do through the stores, having a dedicated device, at least for now, is by far the best way for us to work."

IT Challenges
The IT setup was relatively simple, according to Thrailkill, though it did require an external company for Wi-Fi testing and access point repositioning.

"The biggest amount of work that had to be done, and it will have to be done in every store we do this, is frankly, the tuning of the connections with the Wi-Fi network in the store," Thrailkill says. "Once it's up and running, the IT team isn't involved at all. "

During the past nine months, The Container Store hasn't had any significant hardware issues with the wearables, Thrailkill says. One or two have failed, but overall they have been "extremely stable for something that is a new product".

Theatro's Todd says the subscription price of the Theatro solution covers the cost of the wearables, as well as damage and obsolescence. Customers don't actually pay specifically for the hardware, and the devices really shouldn't need any sort of IT maintenance.

"If [customers] have a problem with a device, we'll just send them a new one," Todd says.

Theatro also offers a live customer service connection, which Thrailkill says makes it very easy get support.

The user feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. In fact, Thrailkill says the staff has been very clear about never wanting to use the walkie-talkies again.

"I expected there to be a much bigger learning curve," Thrailkill says. "Having come from using walkie-talkies for years — where you can't do them wrong, all you do is push a button and talk — I expected it to be a month or more for [employees] to get used to commands and then connecting to a person, talking back and forth, and then remembering to end that conversation by pushing a button. It really was only a week."

The Container Store plans to bring the Theatro wearable to a second store in the Dallas area within the next few weeks. In addition to bringing in the team to make Wi-Fi adjustments, it will send at least one IT representative to help with coaching for a day or so, Thrailkill says. He doesn't expect much IT intervention beyond that. The company intends to put the Theatro wearable into the hands of roughly 2,500 employees in all of its more than 64 (and growing) stores during the next few years, adjusting the rollout and support process as necessary.


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