Retail Worlds Q&A: Samuel Mueller, CEO, Scandit
Written by Michelle Stevens
Retail Systems chats with Samuel Mueller, the CEO of barcode scanning specialists Scandit, about his career and views on the industry.
How did you get into the sector?
Before founding Scandit, I worked as a management consultant and project leader for companies such as Swiss Airlines, Swiss Re and IBM. And I worked at IBM Research while working towards my PhD at ETH Zurich, which is where I met my co-founders, who were researching efficient mobile barcode scanning algorithms for IoT related applications for retail and logistics. We developed the foundations of the algorithms that allow us to turn any camera-equipped device into a crazy-fast and accurate barcode scanning solution. This had countless applications so we decided to acquire the core technology and commercialise it through Scandit.
How long have you been in your current role and what have the highlights been so far?
I co-founded Scandit in 2009. From the start, I oversaw strategic direction, marketing, sales and business development and finance. There have been a number of “a-ha” moments. A major one was realising that the miniaturisation and consumerisation of computing hardware improved smartphone battery life, and great consumer camera modules were the perfect combination to support mobile barcode scanning in industries including retail. The BYOD trend has enabled us to provide enterprise-grade scanning performance on commodity hardware through simple apps without the need to invest and manage expensive hardware while providing real-time visibility into critical business processes. Nobody had done this before.
In terms of technology developments, what have you got planned for the next six months?
We plan to continue to enhance the ability of our solutions to capture data from barcodes, text or images commonly used in the retail supply chain. We also intend to make our ergonomic Scandit Case available for a wider range of mobile devices. And we will continue deploying our mobile data capture technologies and associated cloud services across emerging platforms such as wearables, camera-equipped drones and robots, and VR/AR headsets.
Would you say that the future of retail is mobile, online, physical stores or a mixture of all three?
I would say the future of retail is the continuing convergence of the online, mobile and physical store channels. Customers can order in-store for home delivery, order at home for in-store pickup, redeem digital discounts in-store, or digitally pay in advance for Click and Collect purchases – in other words, “seamless retail”. The physical store remains the anchor of seamless retail. However, there can be no silos between a retailer’s brick and mortar and digital operations.
What has impressed you about one of your recent online or High Street shopping experiences?
I won’t mention the name, but I recently had a Click and Collect experience that combined the best aspects of brick and mortar and digital retailing. I selected products and placed an order using the retailer’s mobile app. Once my order was ready for pick-up, I received a text. I sent a text when I reached the store parking lot. A sales assistant brought my purchase out to me. I never left my car. This was seamless retailing at its finest.
Is there anything that you dislike or that frustrates you about the sector?
I think there is a still a tendency amongst many retailers to adopt a “wait and see” attitude toward emerging technology. Especially amongst more established chains, there is often a sense that what worked yesterday should still work today. This means they let more innovative peers reap the benefits of early adoption. I’m not saying retailers should blindly implement every shiny new solution. But they also need to realise the modern seamless retail model requires openness to new technologies and procedures.
Who in the industry inspires you and why?
I find Amazon.com incredibly inspiring. Their willingness to invest in a geographically dispersed and technologically sophisticated distribution infrastructure is paying huge dividends. Amazon.com offers the convenience of a store without actually having a store. Their assortment is unbeatable, prices are competitive and delivery can occur in as little as two hours. They also offer a wide network of pick-up locations. Watch Amazon’s experimentation with brick and mortar stores closely. They may eventually disrupt physical retailing as much as they have digital retailing.
What technology can’t you live without?
Quite simply, I can’t live without my smartphone. The whole seamless retail model is enabled by near-universal smartphone ownership. These devices let you live your entire life seamlessly. I can always find directions to where I’m going. Before entering a restaurant, I can read customer reviews and see if I like the menu. I’m never out of touch with the people I care about. Any information I need is a click or a scan away. Smartphones are true “supercomputers”.