Target's Sales Floors Are Switching From Apple to Android Devices

Photo: Getty
Photo: Getty

Back in 2014 Target, America’s eighth largest retailer, outfitted its employees with Apple products for stocking, pulling items, and other essential sales floor duties. iPod Touches in red plastic shells with scanners called “MyDevices” replaced the company’s old PDAs. But after three years, Target is moving to Android devices, Gizmodo has learned.

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In Fall of 2016, Target stores began testing the Zebra TC51, which runs Android 6.0 Mashmallow and was confirmed to Gizmodo as “the new MyDevices for store team members chainwide” by a company spokesperson over email. On Reddit’s r/Target page and the unofficial employee forum The Breakroom, the new devices have been met with enthusiasm—and plenty of jabs at the old iOS scanners.

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Image: Reddit
Image: Reddit

“The current iOS my devices we have all sorts of issues, connection issues, scanner issues, and tons more,” one Breakroom poster complained. On Reddit, a former store manager wrote that “the iPod hardware they used as on the floor scanners for employees died quickly and there was no way of swapping in new batteries. There were many hardware issues that came about with the ipods.”

While a Target spokesperson confirmed the company will still purchase some products from Apple—iPads for online order pickups, iPhones for managers—the sales floor is switching to Android, and the company is staffing up on Android developers to port over all the internal software stores use.

What may seem like a small change is enormous when the size of the company is considered. According to a spokesperson’s estimate, there are an average of 30 MyDevices in use per store, and approximately 1,800 Target stores. That’s 54,000 pieces of merchandise Apple won’t be upgrading. It also points to the growing irrelevance of the iPod line, which Apple stopped including in its quarterly sales reports in 2015.

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Removable batteries appear to be the biggest draw for store staff. A current employee told Gizmodo over email “the stores had no way to change batteries in them. They would die quickly. We would have to use external battery’s device or cables to charged them.” The Target spokesperson confirmed that battery life was a major consideration, as was Android’s flexibility to develop apps for.

“As Target rolled out more software functionality to the MyDevices they began removing the same functionality on the PDAs,” a former Target manager who recently left the company told Gizmodo “The goal was to completely get rid of the PDAs but they never completely did because the MyDevices were so unreliable.” Posts on The Breakroom suggests lower-level employees are still using the unwanted PDAs which may now be replaced with the outgoing generation of MyDevices. While Target may never fully get rid of the iPod Touches from its sales floor, it’s likely to massively scale back its enterprise-level orders from Apple.

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We reached out to Apple and Zebra for comment and will update if we hear back.

Correction: We reported that testing began “around January” of 2017. Target claims testing for the Zebras began in Fall of 2016 but was unable to be specify a date or month.

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Senior reporter. Tech + labor /// bgmwrites@gmail.com Keybase: keybase.io/bryangm Securedrop: http://gmg7jl25ony5g7ws.onion/

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DISCUSSION

What I suspect that mean is low level hourly employees wouldn’t charge the devices for the next shift and they would always be dead. Apparently managers could work fine with an iPhone (and might actually prefer it by the sounds of it) and front of house customer service seems to be able to handle the devices well. It’s going to be an expensive move for them to switch over. I’m very curious what androids enterprise support terms are like. Most companies like X amount of years of vendor support for patches and bugs and stuff. I don’t know if Apple ever came out and actually told companies how long the support was (like how Microsoft does with windows etc) but they seem to at least get 3 iOS releases or so... I would imagine 3 to 4 or maybe 5 years the devices were officially “up to date”.

I feel like occasionally android is already out of date by the time rollout happens... though maybe on the enterprise channels it’s different...