Future success in stores depends on nimble use of mobile tech

Bill Siwicki

82 per cent of U.S. smartphone owners use their mobile devices to shop, according to new data from research firm eMarketer Inc. And 60 per cent of time spent with online retail occurs on a smartphone and/or tablet, compared with 40 per cent on a desktop and/or laptop, digital measurement firm comScore Inc. finds.

The facts could not be more clear: Consumers consider the most personal computing device they own, the one that is never more than three of four feet from them, their smartphone, to be a shopping tool.

Chain retailers, however, need to broaden their minds when it comes to how they view mobile commerce. Every smartphone owner (more than 70 per cent of all mobile phone owners) that walks into a store has their smartphone with them. And, almost by default, they associate shopping with these mobile devices. And they don’t just use their smartphones to shop when they are away from a store, they use their mobile devices to shop when they are in a store. The smartphone has become a personal shopping assistant; and for many consumers, a replacement for the store associate who they don’t want bugging them (and who, frankly, knows much less about the store and its products than does the shopper’s smartphone).

42 per cent of smartphone owners in stores use their devices to conduct research on products, according to a study by Google Inc. 64 per cent of those shoppers use search engines, 46 per cent use that retailer’s mobile website or mobile app, 30 per cent use a different retailer’s mobile website or mobile app, and 26 per cent use another type of mobile site or app, such as a coupon aggregator, Google finds.

The smartphone simply has obliterated the old ways a great many people used to shop. Consequently, retailers need to obliterate the old ways they continue to think about shopping. Smartphones weave in and out of the “purchase funnel,” popping up hither and yon. They’re used for research or browsing when downtime presents itself on the go, they’re used to make purchases while lounging on the couch watching TV at night, they’re used to help find the right stores to find the right products, and, they’re used in stores to conduct research, to help determine whether to make a purchase, and sometimes to purchase items that are out of stock.

There are all kinds of tactics smart retailers can use to interact with, assist and entice smartphone-toting shoppers in stores. Most of these tactics depend on a retailer having a mobile app. This is because an app—unlike a website—combined with other technologies, such as beacons, enables a retailer to detect when a shopper is in a store and subsequently use a variety of tactics, such as sending a shopper special offers or asking a shopper if she needs assistance. Further, it’s difficult to find a consumer or an expert who believes a mobile website provides a superior experience to a mobile app. Plain and simple: A mobile app can help a retailer bring into stores all of the wonders of web shopping that customers have grown accustomed to online.

To make the magic work, retailers must create a more seamless shopping experience between desktop commerce, mobile commerce and store commerce, and that involves integrating order management, content management, store and other systems, as well as fostering deeper relationships between e-business and store operations teams.

Following are three tactics retailers can use to appeal to shoppers with smartphones in stores to help make the shoppers’ in-store experiences more productive or enjoyable, and ultimately to enable mobile to help boost store sales.

1. Offer a wayfinding feature in a mobile commerce app.

If a store is even of moderate size, and particularly if it sells many, many products, odds are many shoppers are going to need help finding something. And of course, there’s never a sales associate when you need one. And that’s presuming you’re not one of the many consumers who prefer not to deal with a store associate. Increasingly, shoppers want to come and go on their own terms, and the smartphone is making that a much easier proposition.

Retailers can integrate into their mobile apps rather detailed store maps, known as wayfinding features, whi ch shoppers can use not just to find what aisle a product is in, but what shelf it’s on. With location-based technologies such as beacons, store maps can quite literally lead a shopper to a product, as if the smartphone was a virtual divining rod.

When it comes to store maps in apps, Target Corp. has been leading the way. Target executives have described the smartphone as the most important object consumers use every day, and mobile apps in stores as the kind of tools that make smartphones so important. And quite important to Target, the chain retailer has reported increases in store sales attributable to use of its mobile commerce app in stores.

When deploying wayfinding features, retailers should promote store maps and their benefits to regular app users as well as all customers. Many regular app users will appreciate the new feature, especially when it’s framed as a way to ease and speed store shopping, and many customers who do not regularly use the app may be enticed to give it a try because of the store map feature. Retailers also should rigorously test the feature to make sure it is as accurate as possible, as a couple misfires could quickly sour a customer not just on the store map but on the app.

2. Offer mobile coupons.

One would think this is a no-brainer, but it’s not. Many retailers with apps do not push mobile coupons to customers. Some may not like the word “coupon.” Fine. Then send a discount. Don’t like that word either? Offer a daily deal, promotion, something of value. One way or another, no matter how you put it, mobile consumers like mobile coupons.

560 million consumers worldwide used mobile coupons last year; mobile coupon users will increase to 1.05 billion by 2019, according to data from Juniper Research.

Retailers can use coupon codes that store associates can input at point-of-sale terminals. However, it is ideal in this highly mobile world to offer coupons that can be scanned by store associates at checkout. T

his, however, requires optical scanners, as opposed to conventional laser scanners. Lasers bounce off of the glass of a smartphone screen; optical scanners can read anything displayed on a smartphone screen, such as a QR code or a UPC code. A steadily increasing number of retailers are updating to the new optical scanners.

Retailers like Walgreens and Target have had great success with mobile coupons. Target’s Cartwheel app, entirely dedicated to mobile coupons, is one of the most used apps in all of mobile commerce.

Retailers need to stress to customers the value of using mobile coupons that are pushed to them through an app. Merchants should add an element of fun to the process. Consumers have quite a bit of fun with their smartphones, and shopping is part of the fun. When a retailer can make shopping more fun via a smartphone, shoppers will migrate to mobile. Retailers should use location-based technology to trigger mobile coupons. Deploying some beacons, which can detect smartphones containing a retailer’s app, in stores enables a merchant to pinpoint the location of a shopper and push a coupon based on that location. So a shopper standing near the cologne counter could receive a 10 per cent off all cologne purchases coupon.

3. Employ gamification techniques in an app to make shopping more fun.

Consumers really enjoy their mobile devices. Many literally play games on them, but even for those who don’t, a smartphone is a fun tool. It is not associated with drudgery, it’s associated with cool stuff wherever and whenever you want cool stuff. So appealing to consumers’ sense of fun can be a beneficial tactic, and help retailers better engage in-store shoppers and increase the average order value and sales in stores.

With its mobile app, Shoe Carnival is literally turning shopping into a carnival. In stores at the 400-location family footwear retailer, an emcee wanders, occasionally letting customers ready to checkout spin a big Wheel of Savings to see if they can win special savings. For example, the wheel might land on an additional dollar amount off any purchase.

But not everyone gets picked by the emcee. However, every shopper with a smartphone gets their chance once a day to spin a recreation of the Wheel of Savings inside the Shoe Carnival mobile app. So an app user might win, for example, 20% off women’s sandals in the next 24 hours, and she can redeem the offer right then and there in the store.

Greatly expanded use of mobile technologies in stores to grab the attention of customers, help them and entertain them, with the goal of boosting in-store sales, is the next great frontier for mobile commerce. Sm\art chain retailers will jump out in front and make a name for themselves among consumers as “the store with all the cool, helpful, money-saving mobile shopping tools.” A nd those retailers will reinvigorate store sales and the store shopping experience.

Bill Siwicki is vice president of mobile strategy and research at GPShopper. He tweets at @MobileSiwicki.

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