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How One Retailer’s Employees Are Using Wearables

For the last several months, when employees have shown up for work at the Austin, Texas, location of The Container Store – the Texas-based retail chain that specializes in storage and organization products – they’ve collected a wearable device from a charging station and inserted a wired component into their ear.

The retailer explained to recently that it’s begun moving away from walkie-talkies as a key employee communication tool in that Austin location, where it’s instead embracing a lightweight, plastic wearable gadget from Dallas-based startup Theatro. That device allow for hands-free voice communication and employee tracking – and The Container Store is so happy with the pilot it’s conducted that it’s rolling the devices out to a second store in the Dallas area soon, then to all the company’s stores in the coming years.

The retailer told that the Theatro Wearable Computer represents a game-changing use of technology to improve its operations, with that workplace use serving as one more indicator of the potential ubiquity of wearable devices as things like smartwatches, connected glasses and health trackers continue to proliferate.

A recent report from Forrester analyst J.P. Gownder forecast that widespread availability of wearables in the enterprise space will take about a decade to materialize – and within the next six years, wearables will be a common presence within many businesses like The Container Store, which is using what Theatro bills as among the first voice-enabled enterprise wearables on the market.

“We’d much rather have employees engaging with customers verbally than the two of them looking at a screen together,” John Thrailkill, The Container Store’s vice president of store systems and business development, told CIO. “Heads up versus heads down is how we put it.”

In that interview, he added that he considered moving the retailer toward using smartphones instead but ultimately ruled them out because of the distraction of a screen, among other things.

The Theatro Wearable Computer is more than a souped-up walkie-talkie. After arriving at work and picking up their device, for example, the next thing The Container Store employee does is press a button and talk into the device to announce their arrival. After doing so, other employees currently on the network are alerted to the arrival. If one employee asks the device to find another employee, the device can respond with that employee’s location, and if the employee’s shift doesn’t start until later in the day, a shortened recording of the team “huddle” from earlier in the day can be sent to the device’s audio inbox, according to CIO.

Even more uses could be on the way. Theatro and The Container Store, for example, also have talked about using the devices and its cloud storage to possibly get rid of the retailer’s time-clock system for employees, among other things.

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