“LNL Systems develops communication technologies that help retailers and their customers and the challenges they face.”
Listening to customers is key at LNL Systems of Natick, Mass. “We really have to understand the retailers and their customers and the challenges they face,” owner Mark Barnes says. “A lot of product ideas and enhancements [come] from the retailers themselves.”
Barnes founded LNL Systems in 2009. Initially, the company mostly sold Motorola two-way radios for in-store communications among retail workers.
“About three years ago, one of our largest customers came to us and said they were cutting back on labor but still wanted to know when people were in certain areas of the store, largely for theft or loss prevention,” he says. “They also wanted to be notified so associates could go over and assist customers with buying decisions.” In response, LNL created the FlorLink SmartHub™, which takes input from sensors on the sales floor. Sensors include cameras, motion detectors, customer call buttons, sensor mats that customers step on, door sensors and other devices.
The information is routed to the two-way radios, tablet computers or other store associate devices – though mostly two-way radios – so the employees can then go to assist the customer or perhaps deter a potential shoplifter.
FlorLink SmartHub™ can also send a message from the corporate headquarters to the retail associates. “A lot of larger retailers have their own online order system,” Barnes explains. “If [their customers] want to pick an item up in a local store, corporate can route a message to a retail associate. Some retailers offer pick-up within one hour. It provides a better level of customer service.”
On the Retail Floor
Other LNL Systems technologies include FlorChat radios and phones so retail associates can communicate with each other or management, FlorCall buttons for customers to call for assistance – such as in a fitting room – and FlorData services that measure FlorCall activity and how responsive retail associates are to customer calls.
All of these systems are meant to increase efficiency in the retail environment because, as Barnes notes, “increasing productivity lowers costs and enhances customer experience, which improves sales.”
LNL Systems targets a range of clients, including big-box stores and specialty retailers such as convenience stores, dollar stores and specialty clothing stores.
For grocery stores, LNL Systems supplies a four-button device for use at the checkout areas. The device can be used to request a manager, a need for change, someone to carry a customer’s groceries or other types of assistance.
LNL Systems also has equipment for liquor departments, which tend to be high-theft areas, Barnes says. A camera triggers a message over a speaker when someone dwells in the area for a short period of time. The message says something like “Thanks for shopping in the liquor department.”
“For a potential thief, it’s a trigger that someone is watching,” Barnes explains. “An associate can then come over and either help a customer or be a deterrent.” LNL Systems’ retail clients include Ahold Delhaize Supermarkets, Coach, Staples, Gucci, Tory Burch, Foot Locker and Under Armour
Retail vs. Online
While the buzz is all about online sales taking over from retail sales, Barnes insists he not losing any sleep. “The majority of all sales is still being done in stores,” he says. “Even though five years ago everyone thought retail is going to be dead, the in-store experience is still relevant. When people want something right away, they still want to purchase it in a store and also see it and touch it.”
He adds that “even though it seems like online is growing every year, as a percentage of retail sales, only 15 percent of sales by 2022 is expected to be online. The key will be creating a great experience when going to stores. We think we are well positioned to help with that. One of the key things is to assist the customer when they come into the stores.”
To continue to reach new retail customers, LNL attends retail trade shows, some of which are dedicated to loss prevention. It also belongs to organizations of suppliers and retailers.
Barnes says that while there is a lot of competition in the sales of two-way radios, there is “not anyone who is doing what we are with cameras and recording video and providing alerts. Our challenge is getting the word out to as many customers as possible.”
Recently, LNL developed FlorTrak to track where retail associates are in a store. “If a customer requests assistance, we can tell which retail associate went to assist a customer and at what time,” Barnes explains. “We can tell how long it took them to respond. We have stores wondering which employee is responding and how long it is taking. This application provides data to answer those questions.”
LNL is working to develop a new product that would allow retail associates to voice-query a computer database and provide valuable information such as the price and inventory of a particular product. “FlorLink SmartHub would convert the voice to text and then back to voice over a two-way radio to the associate,” Barnes says. “That will require a bit of work but it’s next on the horizon.”
Also, on the drawing board is a technology to send alerts to employees’ smart watches.
Barnes expects a good year ahead. “In 2019, we’re hoping to see some [retail] chain-wide rollouts,” Barnes says. “Sales have been good over the last nine years. We’re expecting to really take off.”
Article originally posted on Retail Merchandiser.
“We really have to understand the retailers and their customers and the challenges they face. A lot of product ideas and enhancements [come] from the retailers themselves.”
– Mark Barnes, CEO of LNL Systems