Written By Brinda Cockburn
Mobile devices are playing a key role in evolving the retail experience for brands, customers and their communities. By blurring the boundaries between physical and digital space, mobile provides contextual, in the moment opportunities for consumers on the go — allowing shoppers to engage in a branded experience virtually anywhere and at any time.
Bridging the Physical and Digital Experience
The physical store remains the most immersive experience for customers to interact with a brand, yet with mobile, brands have an opportunity to enhance every touch point of the retail experience.
With services or products at the tap of a finger, retailers must be intelligent about crafting meaningful and relevant experiences that help drive awareness, conversion, loyalty and social sharing through mobile. Here are a few strategies that showcase how the mobile platform can enhance the retail experience throughout the purchasing lifecycle.
Discovery and Awareness
Armed with smartphones, customers are able to discover more about what and where to buy before ever setting foot in a store. Complete with GPS, bar code scanners, augmented reality and even NFC, these devices enable brands to engage and connect with their customers like never before.
Through immersive QR campaigns such as scavenger hunts, customers can be prompted while “on the go” to relevant offers in their area. Proximity information such as inventory, wait times, circulars and in-store maps create a more enjoyable shopping experience by allowing users to react to circumstances in real-time. Some successful strategies include:
Through mobile applications like Stripey Lines or ShopSaavy bar code scanning consumers can research products, check prices and/or availability and quickly make purchases to pick up in-store. In the realm of music, users can scan a barcode, access it through iTunes and/or listen to the sample instantly.
Virtual Trying On
For a few days during late October 2011, British department store Debenhams launched an augmented reality pop-up store service on iPads that allowed users to try on outfits while touring UK’s top attractions. This strategy combines the hassle-free aspects of online shopping with the ability to “try-on” clothes as they would in-store, alongside the fantastic backdrops of London. Other examples include a tablet-based virtual make- up mirror that allows users to try before they buy.
Location-based Coupons and Rewards
The use of mobile tags can turn static media into a live experience. For example, shoppers can use mobile tags to win instant prizes and gain more information on products. During this use case the shoppers contact and location information can be easily captured on the phone making it a one tap opt-in process to enter sweepstakes. People can enter contests with less friction around sign-up and registration. With location-based social networks, retailers can target shoppers with promotions at the moment they check into a store location with limited time incentives to make purchases.
In-Store Conversion: Telling the Story Behind the Product
It’s a common mistake to think that conversion in m-commerce works the same way as in ecommerce – through online purchases. The real opportunity is driving conversion within the in-store experience. When a shopper scans or taps a product they’re interested in, they can gather information that helps them decide about the purchase of a product. With additional information people can understand how products fit their needs and lifestyle before they commit to purchase. For example, Meyer Natural Beef produces meat without hormones or antibiotics, targeting consumers who are highly interested in knowing how their products are sourced. By scanning a Microsoft tag on the packaging, shoppers can capture in-depth information about these practices while standing in the aisle. Shopwell is a mobile app that helps shoppers manage their diet and nutrition needs – they scan product barcodes in the store, quickly pulling up ingredients and nutrition labels. It also taps into a users dashboard to offer ratings and provide alternatives.
The in-store experience can now provide real-time access to information on the web alongside one-on-one assistance from sales staff to create a personalized shopping experience that helps ensure loyalty and enhance perceived value. A workforce armed with handheld devices and sales personnel who are untethered from desks or registers are easily able to engage and interact with customers as well as complete transactions at any place or time. Providing staff with these tools also instills greater confidence in their ability to provide superior customer service.
Text to Order
There are several retail shopping platforms through which shoppers use text messages to order and purchase products. The 3rd Ward design incubator created the ShopBox installation in Brooklyn’s Dekalb market. The store is comprised of a recycled, retrofitted and completely un-manned steel shipping container. Shopbox showcases a rotating assortment of wares, which, after signing up using an on-site iPad, shoppers can purchase via text. Subports is another retail platform which enables the text to shop paradigm. Merchants tag products and distribute a designated short code so that users who have their payment information tied to a Subports account can text the code to complete a purchase instantly.
Scan to Checkout
Mobile payment systems are enabling users to purchase any product they come across while shortening the purchase process. Examples include the Square mobile payment system for iPhone and iPad which allows users to check out from anywhere. The use of mobile tags on some products also give users the option to purchase a product immediately, turning an interaction into a point-of-sale transaction that allows customers to skip the checkout line.
Loyalty & Retention: Building customer relationships
Beyond purchase, marketers are also using mobile technology to enhance customer service – for example, instructions can be made readily accessible with the simple capture of a mobile tag. Some other strategies include:
With services such as Yelp and Pinterest, shoppers can now leverage the wisdom of their peers to help make informed decisions, and conversely retailers can provide targeted incentives or deals and recommendations based on their knowledge of users’ interests.
Show and Tell
Mobile technology together with connected social networks are enabling friends and strangers alike to receive real-time feedback. Peer information has transformed the shopping experience into a social experience that helps customers make informed decisions based on peer reviews. For retailers, enabling users to share this type of information means:
- Providing wireless internet access in stores
- Having tools for users to capture and share pictures in the retail environment and allowing customers to take pictures in store
- Including social networks on sites – Walmart now offers ability to communicate on a shoppers’ social network of choice. Using their knowledge of interests and your friends networks, the store wants to be able to make gift recommendations for your friends through Facebook, like offering deals around the holiday season
The Power of the Crowd
Customers are using online networks to collaborate on communal purchases that help increase individual buying power. Connecting shoppers with similar interests and enabling further discounts can exert some influence on seller product and service offerings.
Mobile provides a platform where we can start thinking less about real estate, retail staff, online vs. offline and start thinking more about the ENTIRE world as a store; one where purchases can be made regardless of time or place. With a holistic approach to mobile, brands can transform the entire shopping lifecycle. Retailers must evolve to support ever-richer experiences, drive sales and ultimately foster loyalty and evangelism from their customers.Sources Cited: Fashion and Mash Blog Debenhams launches virtual store concept with Goldrun October 2011 National Federation of Retailers: Mobile Retail Initiative Digby Retail Mobility: Laying the Right Foundation for Long-Term Success Retail Prophet Blog: The Future of Retail: The Destination is You October 13, 2011