A retail associate uses a Zebra ET4x enterprise rugged tablet to price check a pair of shoes for a customer
By Harsh Joshi | August 25, 2022

Consumer Devices Aren’t Good Enough for Front-Line Workers, According to Front-Line Workers. They Also Cost You Way More Than Enterprise Tablets. Here’s Proof.

It’s embarrassing when you can’t do your job because your device isn’t working. But that won’t be something your employees have to worry about when you give them high-quality tablets built to help make them look good (and save you money).

Retail associates, delivery drivers and other front-line workers want mobile technology. But they don’t necessarily want consumer-grade devices like you might think. In Zebra’s 14th Annual Global Shopper Study, 85% of retail associates worldwide said they feel they could provide a better customer experience if they had handheld mobile computers with built-in scanners to use on the job. Not smartphones, but enterprise-grade handheld mobile computers. And nearly two-thirds of associates said the same of rugged tablets. 

Why is favor shifting toward purpose-built mobile computers and tablets? 

Retail associates need devices that are reliable, as they are the ones who must explain to customers why they can’t pull up product, pricing or shipment information in a split second when a consumer device is sluggish, offline due to a dead battery or accidental drop or struggling to connect to wireless networks or back-office systems.  

In other words, believing that consumer-grade devices are “good enough” for front-line workers is not good enough anymore.  

Retail associates aren’t the only ones who feel this way, either. Delivery drivers, merchandisers, and others constantly on the move want devices that can connect to any cellular or Wi-Fi network, support fast and accurate barcode scanning, and handle the bumps and bruises that devices experience when used all day, every day. They also want devices with bigger, brighter screens than a typical handheld device, yet they don’t want the device to feel like a dumbbell when they have to carry it around for hours. That’s the insight we have gathered after spending months – and, in some cases, years – talking to front-line workers and business decision-makers across the retail, hospitality, transportation and logistics sectors about how mobile technology is helping them today – or not.  

One surprising takeaway from our conversations was that none of the consumer or enterprise tablets on the market today quite hit the mark for many front-line workers. Platforms may offer some of what workers want and need, but none have yet met 100% of their criteria. So, we went to work to see if it was possible to build a high-quality, budget-friendly, rugged tablet that has a large (8-to-10-inch) display, consumer styling, advanced wireless technology, enterprise-grade manageability and security, and 5+ years of longevity. Many people told us that such a device was impossible to design, only because they hadn’t seen it done yet.  

But after months of discovery and design sessions with our customers and engineering teams, and some innovative development initiatives across our business, I’m excited to say that I think we’ve got exactly what you and your front-line workers have been looking for. Watch this: 

If you’re grinning ear to ear – or at least intrigued by the value proposition of the new Zebra ET40 and ET45 Android™ rugged tablets – that makes me smile. We worked really hard to come up with a way to give your front-line workers what they want and need without requiring anyone to concede on their style, spend or functional preferences. We knew that the sooner we could balance form with function, the sooner you could start to see income outpace your investments. That’s because there’s a clear correlation between worker productivity and efficiency and your profitability potential. 

It's All About Perspective

VDC Research analysts have spent years studying the performance of consumer and enterprise rugged tablets in real-world settings. They don’t care which type of device is “better.” They just want to make sure you know which ones have proven to perform better in certain scenarios so you can make the best decision for your front-line workers. So, when they say that enterprise rugged tablets – as a category – outperform consumer tablets, it would benefit you and your front-line workers to understand why they have come to that conclusion. The impacts of a wrong decision (or making a decision for the wrong reasons) are very real. Your business will suffer because your front-line workers either won’t be able to do what they need to do, or you will have to pay more to keep workers productive.  

For example, it has been proven that consumer tablets…

- fail more often because they are not built to handle enterprise environments. As a result, companies with fleets of consumer tablets must deal with more frequent IT interventions and device replacements. In fact, you can expect workers to submit 20% more support tickets with consumer tablets because of their lack of rugged design and troubleshooting tools. This wastes workers’ time. It can also frustrate them as they have to stop what they’re doing to deal with this issue, which prevents them from dealing with or averting customer-centric issues.

- experience more battery-related device downtime than enterprise rugged tablets. You’re expecting your workers to use their tablets for at least eight hours a day. Depending on your business, shared tablets may be used around the clock. But consumer batteries weren’t meant to last all shift long, much less all day. As a result, workers will lose an average of 54 minutes of lost productivity each time they have to charge their consumer tablet. When the battery reaches the end of its life after a year or so, the device – and worker – may be offline for a couple of days or weeks since the tablet will have to be sent to a service depot for battery replacement. The actual downtime experienced will depend on the turnaround time and whether you have backup devices available for workers to use in the interim. But there will be downtime and people will not be happy – to include your workers, managers and the customers ultimately impacted by service or information delays.

The only way to avoid that downtime is to give each front-line worker an enterprise tablet like the ET40 or ET45, which offers an optional second battery (for continuous all-day power), a field-swappable battery (for end-of-life replacements) and a proactive notification service that alerts procurement when a battery is approaching end of life. Your workers can proactively swap the new battery in for the old one without having to take the enterprise tablet out of service, which means they’ll always have access to the information and tools they need to help customers and do their jobs effectively without any downtime. 

- have less reliable connectivity because they’re typically based on older, slower wireless standards. More specifically, consumer-grade devices are 28% more likely to experience wireless connectivity issues that impact productivity than enterprise-grade devices. I know that many consumer tablets are marketed as 5G and Wi-Fi 6 devices like the Zebra ET40 and ET45, but you need to read the fine print and ask about how wireless technology connections are tested. Don’t assume a 5G device will always deliver 5G speed and capacity. Check this out. 

To put it another way: when one of your company-owned consumer tablets slows down or just stops working altogether…

- you will be paying a front-line worker for over an hour of work they’re not actually doing. (There’s an average of 74 minutes of lost productivity each time a consumer tablet fails. And that lost productivity equates to lost or delayed revenue resulting from order fulfillment delays or errors, long checkout queues, prolonged service outages or missed customer appointments.

- you may have to pay IT teams overtime to field an influx of urgent helpdesk tickets. (The average consumer tablet-related IT help ticket takes 64 minutes to complete.)

- you’ll definitely have to pay to replace the broken tablet and to have someone configure, secure, and ship a new one to the end-user. (Suddenly, the sticker price for one worker’s tablet has doubled, leaving you pretty close to what you would have paid for an enterprise rugged tablet that would likely last you 5+ years before replacement was needed.)

Plus, every time a consumer tablet fails to connect to a wireless network, an average of 23 minutes of lost productivity occurs. That’s not something you’re going to have much control over if you’re dealing with consumer tablets – whether owned by you or your workers. If you want help with network connections, you’re going to need access to certain types of support teams. Relationships matter here. When you deploy enterprise tablets like the ET40 and ET45, you can call Zebra or one of our thousands of global solution partners to receive fast assistance from account managers and professional service teams that know your mobility solution setup. 

Something else to think about: your employees pay a big price when you try to save money by choosing a “cheaper” consumer tablet that you think will be “good enough” for now. They will become “that worker” who couldn’t help a customer, make deliveries on time, or otherwise do the job they know they could do well if they had a reliable tablet in hand to complete transactions, retrieve information or communicate with a colleague or customer. Don’t set them up to fail by failing to consider the consequences of short cuts or miscalculated cost-cutting efforts.  

Quality is the Ultimate Cost Saver, and That’s a Quantifiable Fact

I know budgets are tight, the pressure to improve your bottom line is high, and you expect a strong return on investment (ROI) for every technology purchase. It may seem like buying (or accepting a free/subsidized) consumer tablet is the better move for your business despite the hardship you and your team will face later because it will “save money now.” But that’s like buying a fixer-upper and calling it a good deal because the property was cheap, and you didn’t fully account for the cost of renovations. 

You have to look at the cost of the whole “deal” – and the lifecycle cost – before making a decision. You also have to remember that you’re investing in people, not just property. And people (i.e., your front-line workers) can only deliver the gains you want if they’re equipped with the right tools for each job they’re asked to do. 

So, the next time you think that a tablet from a consumer device company is “good enough” for the upfront price you plan to pay, I challenge you to analyze the numbers in terms of spend as well as worker and customer impacts. Put the ET4x to the test alongside consumer tablets. Measure how well each tablet delivers the information and functionality front-line workers need to work both autonomously and collaboratively. Then figure out how that improvement in efficiency, productivity, accuracy or availability translates practically into financial gains – whether in the form of opex reductions, increased revenue or improved margins. You might find that giving workers what they need also gives you (and your boss) what you want: business improvements directly resulting from your decision to “buy ET4x tablets now” to save a lot (or make more) later.


Editor’s Note:

If you’re curious how the new ET4x enterprise rugged tablets compare to consumer tablets or other enterprise rugged tablets from a cost, feature, management or performance perspective, this infographic is a good place to start. You can also visit our website and then schedule a call with a Zebra representative to talk about how you hope tablets can help your front-line workers become more productive and prepared to support your business in any situation. They’ll help you compare the ET4x against other options to make the best decision for your workers based on your goals and available resources. 

Energy and Utilities, Warehouse and Distribution, Transportation and Logistics, Retail, Field Operations, Hospitality, Public Sector,
Harsh Joshi
Harsh Joshi

Harsh Joshi has over 15 years of experience developing, defining, and managing technology products. In his current role at Zebra, he is a Principal Product Manager, responsible for multiple rugged tablet platforms..

Previously, Harsh was a product manager for the IoT portfolio and a pricing manager for the enterprise client business at Dell. He has also developed networking products at Cisco Systems.

Harsh holds a Bachelor of Engineering from the Visvesvaraya Technological University and an MBA from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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