The Mobility Factor

Retailers turn to mobile solutions to engage shoppers at store level

If retailers want to survive in the new economy and volatile marketplace, their focus needs to be on the customer and providing the best service and shopping experience possible. Increasingly, mobile strategies are helping them achieve this goal.

“Consumers looking to connect with retailers, and intimate mobile solutions are helping to revolutionize the retail experience,” said Sanjay Poonen, president of global solutions for SAP, at the SAP Retail Forum 2011, held recently in Chicago. “Overall, [mobility] empowers shoppers as well as store associates, and improves the shopping experience.”

The SAP event made clear that savvy retailers are increasingly leveraging their shoppers’ interest in mobile technology to boost customer service. Besides increasing speed of consumer interaction, mobile solutions enable retailers to create intimacy among shoppers, increasing cross- and up-sells.

REI (Recreational Equipment, Inc.), the Kent, Wash.-based outdoor gear and apparel retailer, has created a two-fold mobile strategy. First, the chain has a mobile app that shoppers can download on iTunes. The free app allows shoppers to search for and purchase merchandise through their mobile phone; scan product bar codes at store-level to learn more information; and even read customer reviews, receive exclusive discounts, access REI membership information, locate stores and reach customer service.

“The app is the top retail app on iTunes, and half of its sales are happening through iPads alone,” reported Bill Baumann, CIO, REI, during a panel discussion at the SAP forum.

The retailer’s second focus is a mobile POS platform. REI added mobile POS in two stores just before the 2010 holiday shopping season. Even though the company still continues to evaluate how to streamline operations such as security tag removal and emailing receipts, “We knew we couldn’t afford to wait,” Baumann said. “We are tracking 25% of sales happening through the devices, and [the solution] is not even operating at 100% yet.”

REI is not alone in its thinking. For example, 65% of retailers reported that mobility was a key focal point in their POS strategies, according to Aberdeen Group’s “Retailers Target POS Mobility for Engagement Interactivity and Revenue” report.

REI continues to evaluate how to create an agile mobile solution.

“We continue to learn from customers’ usage, their behavior and where and how they shop with us,” Baumann said. “And we are learning a lot. And when we work through all issues, we will share it with the world.”


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