While a Web presence is a prerequisite to doing business in the 21st century, the fact that 77% of consumers are now using tablet computers or smartphones to shop is forcing retailers to rethink their digital strategies, according to a survey from online price comparison engine PriceGrabber. Realizing this is not a decision to be taken lightly, retailers need to take steps to ensure that mobility can be an opportunity, and not a threat, to their business.
“There is a dramatic surge in mobile shopping,” said Graham Jones, general manager of Los Angeles-based PriceGrabber. “As smartphone and tablet computer usage becomes increasingly common, consumers embrace mobile as a go-to shopping platform since it can be easily accessed anywhere, anytime.”
The breadth of mobility moves far beyond simply allowing conducting purchasing transactions. Whether looking to more intimately connect with consumers, empower shoppers and store associates, or increase the speed of consumer interaction, mobility is clearly primed to revolutionize the retail experience.
Before chains can reap these and other benefits, however, they need to get their stores mobile-ready. Here are some basic steps to creating a successful mobile strategy:
• Establish a secure wireless network. Mobile devices, especially consumers’ personal units, are beacons for hackers. As such, retailers must be proactive to establish robust, secure wireless connections at store level. Attention should be paid to tokenization and PCI compliance to protect sensitive customer information and mobile payments moving between devices, retailer-specific apps and firewalls.
• Support multiple devices and operating systems. While iPhones are all the rage, they only comprised 28% of the market at the end of the third quarter of 2011, according to The Nielsen Company, New York City. Android’s operating system accounted for 43% of the market (an unprecedented jump from 9% in 2010), and 18% of smartphone users accessed a RIM BlackBerry operating system.
Chains must be mindful to ensure their mobile platform supports all hardware options. They also must deploy device-specific user interfaces and middleware that can detect online traffic patterns and the browsers that access retailers’ mobile sites.
• Integrate mobile into existing shopping channels. Consumers expect — and deserve — a consistent shopping experience regardless of the channel they visit or customer touch point they use. This factor will become mission critical as more chains adopt an omni-channel retailing strategy.
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Focus On: Business Intelligence
The retail industry arguably collects more data than other business segments, and this volume doubles every 18 months, making the prospect of “big data” very real. By adopting mobile business intelligence apps, retailers are harnessing this robust data set and putting decision-making in the hands of its front line of defense — store-level associates.
Defining big data simply as large data volumes is an understatement. Big data is the result of information garnered from a variety of diverse sources, including transaction data, loyalty programs, even emerging sources, including consumer mobile transactions and social media interactions.
Indeed, as a recent study points out, retailers are increasing their strategic vision regarding customer insights. Customer retention was the top initiative among 68% of respondents, with 55% of retailers using analytics to delve into customer data mining, new customer acquisition and segmentation, specifically, according to “Retail Horizons, Benchmarks for 2011, Forecasts for 2012,” published by the National Retail Federation, Washington, D.C., and KPMG.
“Retailers without an active BI initiative won’t be around very long,” said Orlando “Butch” Jagoda, VP, IT, Helzberg Diamonds, Kansas City, Mo.
Jagoda said retail is a tough business, one that gives customers endless choices of where and how to buy merchandise — all factors pushing the envelope for retailers trying to manage big data. As a result, these robust data sets need equally robust analytics engines.
“Historically, data was transactional, and retailers used BI to understand trends,” Jagoda added. “As data sets and expectations increase, we need to add infrastructure that models and correlates endless data streams to help chains make decisions.”
While BI operations are often conducted at corporate offices, retailers’ front line staffers and store managers still need access to timely information to ensure they can best service the consumer when they enter the store. By adding mobility to the mix, retailers are giving store associates more selling power than ever before.
As more associates adopt mobile devices (smartphones, tablet computers, etc.) to improve the store-level shopping experience, chains have a new way to deliver reporting tools right to store associates’ fingertips. Armed with mobile BI apps, store managers can receive messages from the corporate-exception reporting tool, alerting them to fast- or slow-moving merchandise, allowing them to fine-tune assortments and displays on the fly.
BI is deeply rooted in Helzberg Diamonds’ DNA, and mobile is playing a stronger role. “Internally, mobile makes it easier for associates who travel, our store managers and all associates who need to be connected with business statistics,” Jagoda said. The goal: “to take the ‘dashboard’ to a form factor that’s easy for those who travel to get the same information,” he added.
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Pinterest: A Powerful Tool to Engage Consumers and Store Associates
By Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin
Editor’s note: Launched in March 2010, Pinterest now ranks as the third most-visited social-networking site in the United States, according to a recent report by Experian Marketing Services. Pinterest, which lets its users “pin” photos and information onto virtual boards, ranks behind only Facebook and Twitter in terms of total visitors, according to the report. It also skews heavily female — about 60% of users are women.
Retailers are flocking to the visually enticing Pinterest site to engage with consumers. Why is Pinterest suddenly such a big deal? For one thing, it’s exploding with growth. In September 2011, the site had less than 2 million users. Now, it has 20 million users or more.
The visual nature of Pinterest is a natural for retailers with product to show. By creating a collection of images on boards with themes like “Crafts I Can Do,” “Products I Love,” “Dream Wedding” and “Chocolate Desserts,” users promote the things that inspire and intrigue them.
Where do users find these images? Occasionally from their own photos, but more often they find things on another website or “re-pin” images other users have pinned to their own boards. This means some early-adopter retailers, from Michaels Stores to Nordstrom, are reporting more traffic to their websites from Pinterest than any other referral source.
But the site can also be a powerful driver to engage employees. There are numerous ways it can be used to build engagement among employees, not just to connect salespeople from store to store, but also between those at corporate with employees in the field.
One caveat is that the brand must have a high comfort level with transparency between employees and customers. People love to buy from people they know, and Pinterest allows your employees to become real people — ambassadors — to your potential customers. But it’s also a public site, with no way currently to keep any board private or restricted to only certain users.
Here’s how an employee engagement initiative on Pinterest might work:
Start with a focused campaign of internal communications to encourage employees to create their own Pinterest boards, pinning company products. You might “gamify” it by suggesting a different theme each month with the best boards winning a prize or discount.
The themed board for July, for example, might be “Best Ways To Show Off Your Tan,” with employees pinning the brand’s new short shorts, strappy sandals and halter dresses. August might be “Prettiest Pale Neutrals,” with employees creating boards of their favorite clothing in white, cream and camel.
Of course, these boards might also include other images not available at the store, like a long stretch of sandy beach on “Prettiest Pale Neutrals.” This makes the boards more than just a way to hawk your products. Instead, they become more akin to third-party endorsements, which are powerful influencers for potential customers.
This Pinterest program is a great way for c-level associates to build relationships with the rank and file, by humanizing themselves and letting employees get to know them a little. A sales associate in Des Moines, Iowa, for example, might feel a new connection to the CEO when she discovers that they pinned the same pale lemon chiffon scarf. Next, she might re-pin the CEO’s image of a perfect neutral pump. Or the national sales manager might follow the boards of a number of sales associates and give them a thrill when she re-pins the puffy jacket from an associate’s “Prettiest Ways To Stay Warm” board.
At the same time, employees gain celebrity-like status with customers on Pinterest. Some could even gain a significant following of customers who admire their tasteful selections. There’s also a gamification aspect there, in recognition of those employees who attract the most followers.
Using existing internal communications vehicles, from the intranet to the company magazine, the best employee boards can be spotlighted, both to acknowledge the creator and build enthusiasm within the employee population. Further, it’s a cross-promotion that will convert more people to Pinterest, which has the potential to influence more folks — exponentially — than your existing channels.
Eventually, this program creates a great deal of visibility for your products, brings your employees closer — regardless of geography or job title — and builds highly engaged brand ambassadors.
Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin is president and CEO of Tribe, an internal communications agency that works with national and global clients. She is the author of several books, including “How to Run Your Business Like a Girl: Successful Strategies from Entrepreneurial Women Who Made It Happen.”