As Customers Demand Personalized In-Store Experiences, Retailers Contend with Mobile Tech
Today’s retailers cannot deny the importance of giving customers highly-personalized experiences. In the past, online retailers have had a distinct advantage, as data collected from shoppers allowed for encounters to be highly customized. Today, smart retailers are focusing their efforts on providing a similar experience in-store, and are shifting the role of the store associate into one capable of delivering this to shoppers. Mobile is a key component of this strategy, allowing associates to look up loyalty-program information, inventory, past purchases, additional items, and more to offer a tailored, face-face shopping event with a customer.
To further explore the use of mobility in the brick and mortar space, our team at Stratix and IHL Group, a global research and advisory firm specializing in technologies for the retail and hospitality industries, partnered to summarize their latest survey of the country’s largest retailers. What the findings confirmed is that while many retailers have deployed mobility for their store, numerous have a difficult time utilizing mobile to its full advantage, and are therefore missing out on countless opportunities for growth.
Driving In-Store Customer Experiences Using Mobility
Continuing to boost brick and mortar revenue is a growing concern for many stores, as online shopping gains momentum. However, its estimated that almost 50 percent of consumers are willing to pay more money for the products they buy if the in-store encounter is more personalized, and most consumers still prefer shopping in brick-and-mortar establishments. Additionally, It is estimated that 55% of buyers feel more comfortable purchasing from an online brand if the brand also has a physical storefront, and 91% of shoppers research products online only to buy them in the physical store location.
But in a world of seemingly endless choices for shoppers via online retailers, where goods can be easily purchased online and received the same day, what is the role of the retail store to the buyer’s path to purchase? And how can mobility in the hands of store personnel offer a unique in-store experience that provides a compelling experience for shoppers in-store?
We know that mobile applications abound for mobile in-store. Store associates and managers can leverage mobility in their hands to provide seamless returns, endless aisle, POS, and loyalty programs to shape the customer experience.
And from our research, we know that associates properly using mobile solutions are having a huge impact on sales, with retailers in the survey reporting as much as a 146% increase in sales once they properly put mobility in their hands of their store associates.
Retailers are struggling to deploy and support mobility
So if mobility can have such a dramatic impact on sales and improve the customer experience as shoppers visit stores, why are many retailers struggling to deploy mobility for their store managers and associates? In the 4Q17 IHL survey of retailers, three major concerns were brought up by the respondents as challenges to deploying mobile for store associates and managers: a lack of proper applications in place to take advantage of mobile (75.2 percent), an absence of enough staff to manage these mobile devices (60.3 percent), and a shortage of support and help desk assistance for the internal mobile users (59.5 percent). In aggregate, 82% of all retailers surveyed admitted that supporting their store and warehouse personnel with mobile solutions was a challenge.
To overcome these challenges, retailers are adopting several strategies and tactics:
- Focus on in-store staffing and training on proper mobile use with customers. Good retail associates capable of guiding customers through the path to purchase are hard to find, hire, and keep on staff, especially in a brick and mortar space when turnover can be as high as 200-400% for associates. As mobility is used to change the in-store experience, and offer a richer conversation between associate and shopper, it’s critical that store associates are trained with how to use mobile applications and how to best guide the shopper using these applications. For instance, a well-designed loyalty app and program allows a retail associate to understand past purchases, and shopping behavior and tailor the in-store experience for that shopper when they visit. A well-designed endless aisle program ensures that any shopper seeking an item is able to purchase even when the item is out of stock in-store, or add accessories to an item from a rich catalog of online selections. Mobility in the hands of an associate can enrich the customers’ shopper experience, and expand the total sales of each customer if mobility is properly deployed and associates properly trained.
- Properly staff support teams to ensure mobility is operational 24 hours a day. in-store staff must have external IT support for their mobile devices and applications, especially as more and more in retail is dependent on them. The potential financial improvements when utilizing mobile apps are proven, but according to the survey, 59% of the respondents feel that a lack of help desk resources is a significant challenge for deploying mobile devices. Technology is not problem-free, and common issues include network connectivity, access to data, and general use problems. Retailers that understand that mobile technology requires a working knowledge of its capabilities realize that investing in a trusted third-party vendor can eliminate many of these headaches, and allow that vendor to augment internal staff to provide support 24x7x365.
- Plan for mobility and decide what is optimal for your store. Smart retailers must determine early on which technology is best for them and how to approach mobile planning. What should be considered are the needs of your customer, the bandwidth your staff can handle, and the amount of time and money you are willing to invest into these initiatives at the enterprise level. Doing this initially lays out a repeatable blueprint for integrating and implementing mobile in a scalable and methodical way.
- Finally, get help from others. Mobile is changing daily, and the complexity and choices involved in deploying, supporting and managing mobility can be overwhelming for even the most sophisticated retailer. Smart retailers today are turning to managed service providers who specialize in mobility to augment their teams and provide the necessary expertise and resources to use mobility to improve the customer experience in-store, and drive revenue.,
Mobile has changed the landscape of the retail industry and will only continue to do so. According to this latest survey, average sales growth is estimated to increase as much as 146% in the coming year as the retail mobile roll-outs are concluded. Having a mobile strategy in place includes embracing the value of mobile, giving in-store teams the tools and support needed to get the most out of using mobile, and looking at mobile as an investment. Furthermore, as mobile technology becomes more multifaceted, assistance from outside sources is often better at managing complex solutions and are equipped to overcome challenges that retailers face when using this technology.
About Gary Lee, Chief Solutions Officer
Gary has over 30 years in technology, and spent the last 4 as CEO of a retail technology company focused on measuring and changing in- store shopper behavior with brands. He is presently Chief Solutions Officer at Stratix, the largest pure-play Managed Mobile Services provider in North America where he works with numerous large retailers to help them deploy and manage mobility.