By Greg Henry, DecisionPoint Systems Inc.
With 75% of the world’s population now able to access a mobile phone, the possibilities for communication and connectivity are staggering. The right mobile solutions can dramatically improve the customer experience by giving customer-facing mobile workers the tools they need to provide instant answers and associate your brand with innovative technologies.
Every retailer, even the most resolute brick-and-mortar operator, needs to consider adopting a mobile solution to stay competitive in a changing business landscape. And while every company is different, I have a few key questions to help you figure out where to begin.
Recognize that mobile solutions will improve both sides of your retail business
As a retailer, you have two distinct audiences that will benefit from mobile technology: employees and customers. For employees, mobile solutions can streamline workflow, eliminate paperwork, and increase connectivity across departments. When it comes to customers, mobile solutions can increase customer service and interaction. Though both may seem useful and appealing, time and budget constraints typically make it wise to start with just one.
When considering where to begin, evaluate and prioritize your business needs. If your business is in need of better controls, processes and associate productivity, mobile applications that focus on employee-related functions should come first. If you are looking to improve your customer service levels, increase revenue per visit, or associate your brand with innovative technology and use cases, then you should focus on customer-facing solutions.
Cost and accessibility can also make a big difference in which kind of app you choose to pursue. Business process applications for employees require that employees have access to mobile devices and as such can be a large capital investment. On the other hand, customer-facing applications generally can be utilized by a subset of your associates and as such require a smaller investment. Size may be the key deciding factor. Studies have shown that larger companies with 500 or more employees are more focused on mobile solutions for employees, while smaller companies place priority on customer apps.
Don’t neglect branding benefits
When considering customer-facing applications, you should ask yourself a few questions including “How will my customer experience improve if my workforce is using a mobile solution? Does this offer a better way for you to receive and respond to customer needs?”
Do your customers use smartphones to access product or technical information? If they do, they probably know more about you and your competitors than you think. Empowering your mobile workers (sales people, service personnel and managers) with mobile applications not only puts you on even footing, but also enables these tech-savvy customers to identify with your brand.
Mobile technologies are becoming a crucial component to brand enhancement as these technologies and applications not only provide differentiation but deploying such popular technologies establishes a leadership position. It may not seem important initially, but many companies have seen improved brand value by replacing traditional scanners and cash registers with popular tablets, such as iPads, which improve brand recognition and customer experience.
Take note of your competitors - they're doing it too
One great and simply way to gauge whether mobile technology will be useful is to check out what your competition is doing. It’s important to know generally where your industry is at when it comes to mobile, how your competitors are using it to achieve their goals, and whether their strategy seems to be successful. Social media, blogs, and other websites are great for accessing customer feedback, whether it’s for your company or someone else’s. Learning what your competitors did wrong or failed to include in their mobile app could be the best guide when developing yours.
Remember that no two retailers are the same. Leverage mobile technologies to differentiate your brand, service levels and operational efficiencies. If you are offering services similar to other businesses, make sure your brand stands out by leveraging mobile technology to showcase your uniqueness.
Come prepared, ready to talk custom app requirements
When you decide to take the plunge, remember one important maxim: Keep it simple. Dressing up your mobile solution with bells, whistles, and every function imaginable is tempting; after all, the possibilities are endless. But over-configured mobile applications can end up being overwhelming for the user and minimize their effectiveness.
Don't forget the logistics
The timeline and price for creating and implementing a mobile solution depends most on one factor: complexity. Fully customized solutions give you exactly what you want, but are often more expensive and take longer to create. Off-the-shelf options are easier, often less expensive, and can be a quick solution for those with a shorter timeline. In order to get the benefits of mobile without spending too much time or money, understand your options and partner with a provider that can offer you choices.
In the end, mobile is the future for the majority of retailers, including many for whom the payoff may not seem immediately huge. Giving thought now to whether and how mobile solutions can work for your company, and continuing to assess the potential impact as the business landscape changes going forward, mean the difference between becoming an industry leader or getting left behind. Don’t let your competitors make the choice for you.