Overcoming Showroom Syndrome

By William Dudley, Bill.Dudley@sybase.com

We, as a consumer society, are increasingly becoming “mail-order,” or more precisely, online patrons.  Companies such as Amazon, Ebay, Overstock.com, and other specialty retailers are putting increased pressure on traditional brick and mortar shops by offering customers mobile-friendly apps and browsers, adding convenience to their shopping experience.  

As many big-box retailers have discovered, their brick and mortar locations are becoming mere showrooms for shoppers who browse at their inventory, then buy it online for less.  Retailer Best Buy has begun to take steps to attempt to remedy this situation by offering Solution Central, a help desk managed by the Geek Squad that is similar to Apple’s Genius Bar. Solution Central is more focused on mobile devices and has the ability to let shoppers pay from various locations.  

Unfortunately for today’s traditional retailers, there is less need for consumers to visit brick and mortar stores, as nearly anything can be acquired online.  

Nevertheless, can mobile help traditional retail fight back against “showroom syndrome?” Can it help get consumers back in stores? We have all heard of location-enabled apps such as Foursquare, Groupon and Yelp. Checking in, reviewing businesses, earning badges, points and discounts are all common mobile-centric ways to bring people into brick and mortar retailers (or at least near them). However, there are more opportunities for retailers to further customer engagement via the mobile platform that could get customers physically into the stores and buying.

Reward them once they are in the store: A Shopkick case study
Shopkick, a mobile app that enables consumers to “treat yourself while shopping” by visiting stores, scanning barcodes and buying items from participating retailers, is amassing quite a cache of retail partners, including Macy’s, Target, Exxon, Old Navy, as well as full-scale malls and retail centers. How is this different than other apps? You just can’t “check-in” when you’re in proximity to the store. It uses innovative technology to get consumers physically inside the store. Once the app is opened, it will detect a signal (an ultrasound beacon), through a mobile device’s microphone then delivers “kicks” to the consumer’s account. These “kicks” are rewarded points that can be redeemed at all participating locations or for gift cards and other items.

In addition to receiving “kicks” for walking into a store, consumers can get rewards for scanning barcodes of items or on posters in dressing rooms, or directly on items. hey can also pay with a linked credit card.The app also does a great job utilizing push notification technology alerting users of new features and specials.

Well-informed brick-and-mortar retailers would do well to leverage as many Foursquare/Yelp/Shopkick capabilities as possible, as this will bring consumers to their locations. Moreover, as we all know, if we can get people into the store, we can also overwhelm them with great customer service.
Smartphones as your personal shopper: A Neiman Marcus case study
Luxury retailer Neiman Marcus is famous for their personalized one-on-one customer service. Earlier this year, Neiman Marcus issued iPhones to all of their on-floor sales associates and organized trainings on how they could use them to engage with customers. Now your personal Neiman Marcus shopper will send you a picture of those newly arrived Manolo Blahniks or that Armani suit directly to your mobile device. In fact, Neiman Marcus recently reported that its associates sent or received more than 200,000 messages in April 2012, leveraging person-to-person messaging via the sales associates’ iPhones.

In addition to leveraging the usage of text messaging, Neiman Marcus has also launched their mobile CRM app called NM Service, in partnership with Signature, a mobile app company. The app calls itself, “the ultimate personal shopping assistant,” and it’s an iPhone app that connects customers with sales associates 24/7. It’s available to both shoppers and sales associates and shoppers are able to browse new arrivals and promotions and “favorite” products. What’s more is how Neiman’s sales associates engage with the customer by placing those “favorites” in a fitting room to have everything ready for the shopper ahead of arrival. The sales associate version of the app also notifies the shopper as they are walking into the store what’s ready and waiting for them. This app is currently being piloted in a handful of stores and is expected to roll-out nationwide sometime later this year.

Both Shopkick points and the customer-service methods of Neiman Marcus are two very good examples of how retailers can learn to attract and keep consumers coming to their locations by leveraging mobile technology and mobile channels. These can be achieved easily. You can equip salespeople with smartphones, then train and encourage them to use these tools to reach out to their customers using reliable channels such as text messaging. You can also partner with a company like Shopkick to get consumers into the store and reward them further for shopping and buying.  

As we move to become even more reliant on our smart, mobile devices we will see more traditional brick and mortar overcome showroom syndrome by turning to mobile to literally pull themselves back from the brink.

William Dudley, group director of operator services products, Sybase 365, a subsidiary of Sybase (a SAP company, is a global leader in enabling mobile information services for mobile operators, financial institutions and enterprises. He can be reached at Bill.Dudley@sybase.com.

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