By Taqi Mohiuddin, Taqi.email@example.com
The stakes are rising in retailing.
E-commerce radically changed the business and now mobile technology is altering the environment of the brick and mortar storefront. Mobile devices have become comparison-shopping tools for consumers and competitive chess pieces for online retailers. Mobile browsing and an increasing number of apps now allow consumers to buy in the virtual world while browsing stores in the physical world. In effect, e-commerce companies have created their own omni-channel strategy by co-opting their competitors’ investments in physical space.
With the ubiquity of mobile devices, they can outflank brick and mortar stores on price while using the physical storefront space as their own virtual showroom. The mobile-equipped shopper does the rest. This competitive dynamic comes on top of other issues presented by the omni-channel shopper. For instance, according to a Motorola Solutions’ Retail Survey in May, 2012, 89% of retailers are unable to connect shoppers’ online activities with their actions in the physical storefront. Retailers can find themselves at a significant disadvantage in servicing the omni-channel shopper.
The next technology evolution, though, is already happening. Brick and mortar retailers can level the playing field with online competitors. Retailers can now offer shoppers on-premise digital experiences through access to their in-store networks. That customer convenience can then be combined with a powerful analytics engine that captures data from shopper activity.
It is important to remember that shopping is still a social experience. The combination of network access and intelligence empowers storefront retailers to drive differentiation over their online rivals. Omni-channel strategies can go well beyond QR codes and shopping lists stored in the cloud.
Many stores today are outfitted with WiFi networks for store operations and increasingly to support bring your own device (BYOD) access for managers. Guest access strategies increase the usefulness of the network for both customers and store management. Shoppers have a built-in incentive to use WiFi for two fundamental reasons: 1) to reduce the usage of the cellular network amid the shifting landscape of data packages for advanced mobile devices; and 2) to increase the signal quality inside buildings. For the shopper, guest access is a customer convenience. For the retailer, guest access analytics augments that convenience with a powerful tool to understand shoppers, offer incentives to close the sale in the store and gain valuable insight to consumer behavior.
Guest access analytics enables retailers to change a familiar scenario. Consumers wandering the floor consult their mobile devices for information on merchandise. Often, they will ultimately comparison shop and buy an item online at a lower price. Guest access analytics allows store management to change that outcome. By offering the store’s WiFi network for connectivity, the analytics engine can go to work on the data stream. Analytics engines can provide data on:
• Search terms used;
• Sites visited;
• Devices used; and
• Time spent online and frequency of browsing.
At the base level, analytics can be a tactical tool. At an opportune moment, a coupon for a specific item can be pushed to the consumer’s device. This potentially creates a win-win proposition in which the retailer closes sales that might have gone to an e-commerce competitor and the consumer receives the advantage of taking a desired item home right away and avoiding shipping costs. Store management can also gain valuable real-time insight into customer preferences in a given location. Perhaps clothing items are not stocked in the colors or in the brands frequently searched for by consumers. Managers might never gain that fine-tuned insight through direct interaction with consumers.
Beyond this immediate creation of sales opportunities, guest access analytics opens up more strategic business opportunities. By aggregating data from across a region or an entire chain, management can spy larger trends driving the business or more easily see the effectiveness of promotions and, of course, gain competitive intelligence. To whom are consumers turning for certain items? Perhaps a competitor has arisen that is not yet on the radar screen. Maybe a new brand is gaining momentum in a hot category, and management has an opportunity to lay in inventory before pricing soars. This analytical insight can also guide a technology-driven customer engagement strategy through avenues such as app development. Analytics can also be geared to gauge the effectiveness of marketing efforts, whether online tools or traditional advertising. Guest access analytics offers a way to check on those investments and others to make sure they pay off with increased traffic, awareness and sales. More advanced analytics implementations can also incorporate location services to hail loyal customers when they are in the storefront’s vicinity. Analytics are key to furthering new forms of customer engagement.
Multichannel shoppers are the new normal, and brick-and-mortar retailers can welcome them rather than worrying that others are benefiting from their investment in physical space and inventory. Once this infrastructure is in place, retailers can meld their online and in-store environments while building a new extended relationship with loyal customers. Guest access and analytics levels the playing field by enhancing the inherent advantages of providing a physical storefront for shoppers.
Taqi Mohiuddin is senior manager, solutions marketing, and leads product and solutions marketing activities for the enterprise networking and communications products at Motorola Solutions. Taqi has more than 15 years of experience in product management and marketing in the wireless, networking, and semiconductor markets. Contact him at Taqi.firstname.lastname@example.org.