Mobile Retail Ties Up the Loose Ends in Immediate Fashion
The mobile channel by definition extends retailing to an almost limitless range of touchpoints, since mobile devices bring the store to wherever the customer goes. Yet current trends in mobile retailing center on tying disparate touchpoints closer together using mobile technology.
For example, using tablet devices store associates can check inventories of either an e-commerce site or of other stores to order out-of-stock items for customers, avoiding lost sales. Or using their own smartphones, customers can scan a QR code or bar code of an item and pull up its description on the manufacturer’s home page. Using location-sensing technology, retailers can send customers real-time texts with targeted offers for items in a nearby store, personalizing promoted targets based on a shopper’s online purchase and browsing history.
Beyond tying up the “loose ends” of customer interaction, the overarching trend in mobile retail is immediacy. Everything retailers will try to accomplish with mobile technology in 2014, from eliminating long checkout lines by replacing fixed POS terminals with tablet- and smartphone-based payment, to providing discounts based on real-time factors such as weather, takes advantage of the immediate nature of mobile devices. No other technology allows retailers to reach customers at the exact moment of purchase decision.
Even better, the mobile channel allows retailers to make customers aware of potential purchase opportunities, such as proximity to a nearby store or an individually targeted, limited-time promotion. By bringing touchpoints together in a way that reflects real-time opportunities to make sales and enhance the customer experience, the mobile channel promises to be a powerful source of retail profitability in 2014.
Real-Time Retailing Turns the Store into the Network
Ken Morris, principal, Boston Retail Partners, recently took the time to explain how real-time retailing and how the concept of “unified commerce” allows stores themselves to become networks for customer engagement.
What is real-time retailing, and how does it benefit retailers and their customers?
In real-time retailing, the device doesn’t matter. There can be a mobile device or fixed device. Hardware, software and data reside in the cloud. The store becomes the network. There is little hardware in the store to malfunction. You drive all peripherals, like signature capture devices and tills, to the network. You can understand what’s in the customer’s closet, offer them what they want to buy and offer discounts in real time. In the future, there will be real-time markdowns using a rules engine with real-time analytics.
What is unified commerce, and how does it fit into real-time retailing?
For example, if I’m shopping online at a retailer, put items in my cart, hold them there for a while and then abandon my cart and go to the retailer’s store, through Unified Commerce when I walk in and identify myself, the staff can look up my abandoned cart history in real time and know what I was looking at. They can also look up what I’ve ordered through other channels. It unifies all channels into one opportunity in the store so associates can sell to you based on your digital footprint.
How can retailers leverage real-time retailing and unified commerce for customer engagement?
It takes three things — people, process and technology. We have the technology, but what about people and process? It’s using big-screen monitors to browse the Web with customers without violating their personal space. At Apple and Microsoft stores, there’s a lot of conversation behind the scenes. Everyone’s wearing a headset. If there’s a hole in the display, they want to understand who picked up the product and where it is. Customer engagement puts stores on a level with their real competitors, like Amazon, eBay and Google.
Final Thoughts — Location Location Location
The only sure thing about disruption is that it will continue evolving at an increasingly rapid pace and in new and surprising directions. But for a last word, perhaps the industry should consider the following prediction from Nikki Baird, managing partner of RSR Research, on where disruption may be headed for 2014.
“Location-based technologies seem like they are poised to be the most disruptive in 2014,” Baird said. “A lot of retailers are looking at stores and trying to understand the role of the store as customers become more engaged digitally, especially through their own mobile devices. The first step seems to be to understand consumer shopping behavior in stores. In 2013, a lot of companies came to market with (or dusted off pre-existing) in-store analytics solutions, and we saw signs of more than a handful of pilots. As those pilots move to roll out in 2014, the next logical step is to move from analysis to acting on insights. It won’t be universal, by any means, but as far as changing what retailers can and should expect in delivering an in-store experience, I think between analytics and location-based insights, we’ll see a disruption in both consumer expectations and the tools that retailers have to meet those expectations.”