Why go to a store when you can purchase online? Thanks to innovative mobility strategies, consumers will soon have plenty of reasons. Instead of focusing efforts on lackluster mCommerce, retailers are now looking at mobility solutions as a means to enhance their customers' in-store experiences, drive loyalty and increase per basket sales.
"We're seeing the convergence of the consumers' mobile with in-store mobile technology," said Erik McMillan, president and CEO of BestFit Mobile. "The convergence point is location. Retailers are using mobile technology to know which and how many customers walk in the door and track where they are in the store."
How is that possible? An intricate mobile solution involving geo-fencing and beacons.
Geo-fencing is a means of creating a virtual perimeter in a physical setting – think large, unseen circles around strategic areas or departments in a store.
"When a customer walks into that 'circle,' the system pushes the appropriate coupon or offer to the mobile device," McMillan said.
So, if the customer is in the plumbing department of a big box store, he or she might get an offer on a discount faucet; in the dairy aisle of a grocery store, a special on eggs. It's targeted marketing, based on a consumer's physical location in the store.
Beacons are low-energy Bluetooth® devices visibly hung on end-caps and other strategic points. Although these beacons have no GPS, they can sense when a mobile device is near. This physical location triggers an action—again, a mobile message, offer or discount that's specific to that area.
"Retailers have readily embraced in-store kiosks that help customers find deals and specials," McMillan said. "But, what about the 'kiosks' their customers are carrying around in their hands? That's where the real opportunities lie."
The Changing Retail Mindset
Mobility also gives retailers an alternative to a mainstay marketing venue that appears to be quickly fading away: Namely, newspaper advertising.
"Retailers need proactive engagements with their customers—and they used to get that engagement through coupons in newspapers. But as newspapers decline, retailers are discovering that the very marketing vehicle that worked well for the past 100 years just isn't working anymore," explained Ed Anderson, chief strategy officer at CompuCom. "Promotional retailers, who relied on newspaper circulars and coupons, are looking for other ways to engage with their customers in a meaningful way—and mobility provides that vehicle."
According to Anderson, simply replicating the newspaper experience via mobile just isn't enough.
"It's not simply about the transaction; it's about the experience," Anderson said. "Mobile marketing has to be simple, cool and visually fun. It's not just about a code on a smartphone. With mobility, it's essential that you present that experience in an engaging way to really make an impact."
The Rise of the Mobile Sales Associate
One of the biggest trends in retail is a new kind of sales associate empowerment—namely giving those customer-facing employees the same access to mobile as the customer.
"We've seen a big push to get iPads and other tablet devices in the hands of the sales associates," McMillan said. "One reason is customer convenience. With the tablet, we can create a mobile point-of-sale system, enabling associates to literally sell on the floor—without the traditional cash register interaction. "
According to McMillan, the more important application is building customer relationships.
"What if you offered a store app with a 'need help' feature that triggered a sales associate to go to the customer to answer a question or check that person out?" That would be a game changer," McMillan said.
With a tablet-clad associate, a mobility-driven loyalty program and the ubiquitous smartphone, associates can also see which customers are currently in the store.
"Let's say you're a retailer with a mobile-driven loyalty program. You can alert your sales associate that customer Sally Smith, a high-tier loyalty program member, just walked in the store—or in your department," McMillan said. "What kind of an impact do you think that type of personal attention could have on that customer's purchases and repeat visits to that retailer?"
The Power of Analytics
This new retail mobility brings another significant benefit: namely, analytics.
"With these solutions, a retailer can see how many people were in each of their stores on a specific day, when they came and how much they spent," McMillan said. "They can geo-fence competitors as well, so you know how many of their loyalty customers are in competing grocery or department stores."
Retailers can also identify the percentage of loyalty customers in store compared to total store traffic. Do loyalty customers have a shopping pattern? A store preference? And which mobile offers or coupons generate the greatest response?
The New Challenges
As with any change, the increased use of mobility in retail brings its challenges.
Take those mobile coupons, for instance. When coupons were primarily delivered through newspapers, retailers planned for a percentage of breakage— coupons clipped that never actually make it to the store. With the shift to digital coupons, retailers must adjust their coupon strategy so the increased redemption doesn't erode profitability.
At the same time, retailers have to find a way to manage this onslaught of new technology.
"Technology is now a differentiator at retail, with offerings from multiple vendors in store—and that complexity will continue to increase," said Wayne Scalf, senior vice president of Retail and Consumer Product Good Markets for Xerox Business Services. "Most retailers who invest in these great new technologies don't have the resources to run them. "
Instead of pulling sales associates away from their customers to track down the appropriate vendor when a register stops working or a scanner stops scanning, retailers are turning to outsourcing providers to manage the complexity.
"The newest trend is the outsourced Store Command Center, a solution in which all of the different technologies within a retail chain are rolled up into a centralized service desk and support system," Scalf said. "Instead of dealing with 12 different vendors for resolution, store personnel deal with one."
Good Things In Store
When it comes to retail, the concept of good, old human interaction is making a comeback. With mobility as an enabler, retailers can provide customers with better service, more convenience and give them the kind of experience they just can't get online.
Going to the store just got a whole lot more interesting.