Not since the internet have we seen a more disruptive technology to the retail landscape than mobile. Mobile has caused a shift in power between retailers and consumers, and with Nielsen projecting smartphones to make up more than half of all phones in the US by the end of the year, the era of the mobile-enabled shopper is well underway. This new breed of shopper presents a challenge for the operational model of most retailers — a model based on the idea that shoppers would research, select, purchase and take into possession their item in the store. But the store is no longer impenetrable from the vast wealth of information found online and consumers can now perform transactions on their smartphone anywhere with a wireless signal.
Mobile devices have armed the tech-savvy shopper with an online toolkit to make more educated purchase decisions, resulting in a shopper who is often more knowledgeable about a store's products than the sales associates. In this new shopping paradigm, the consumer has the upper hand, but by empowering associates with mobile technology, retailers can help ensure that the brick-and-mortar store remains relevant.
The Customer's Toolkit
The internet made it easy to price, shop and research products from home. Now, mobile devices give shoppers the ability to compare prices on the go — 40% of shoppers with smartphones use their devices to compare prices while shopping, according to a survey by SapientNitro — and this simple task is just the beginning of what the mobile-enabled shopper can do inside the four walls of the store.
With the right mobile tools, a shopper can enter a store, check store inventory, get feedback on a product from friends over social media, compare the store's prices to competitors' prices online or in the vicinity and even purchase the item — all without ever making contact with a sales associate. This unassisted shopper may end up making a purchase in the store, but these tools can also cost stores sales to competitors offering better deals or a more mobile-friendly shopping experience.
The available arsenal of mobile tools allows customers to transform a retailer's largest capital investment, the brick-and-mortar store, into little more than a costly showroom.
The Mobile-Enabled Shopping Experience
Mobile tools provide a powerful platform to the consumer, granting them instant access to a tremendous amount of data not often extended to the store associate. Retailers have this information and may with native apps share it with their customers. However, while customers have this rich information available anywhere in the store, sales associates traditionally can only access it behind the counter. Store associates need to be able to take the data anywhere, to be freed from behind the cash wrap and interact with customers where they shop. Untethered access to this data can create a better picture of the shopper for sales associates and empower associates to deliver a more personalized, efficient interaction from point-of-interest to point-of-sale. This mobile-enabled interaction is crucial in bridging the gap between the physical and digital retail experience as shoppers continue flocking to mobile.
This tailored shopping experience is why mobile-enabled consumers are turning to their smartphones, but personal interactions are still valuable to shoppers. According to a recent RIS study, 64% of shoppers want to see retailers use mobile technology to improve customer service. By arming associates with equivalent mobile technology, retailers can help sales associates better serve consumers by advising on complementary and recommend items based on shopping history, enabling endless aisle and having out-of-stock products shipped direct to the customer, and reducing lines at the register. Not only can these tactics save sales and increase market basket sizes, but they also help provide the individualized experience the modern consumer seeks.
Retailers must adapt to, rather than ignore, the demands of mobile-enabled shoppers. Though mobile may cost unequipped retailers sales, retailers should embrace the mobile-enabled shopper — customers engaged in multiple channels spend an average of 50% more than single-channel consumers, and those using their mobile device inside the store are more likely to make an in-store purchase than those who do not.
Even as tech-savvy shoppers turn to their smartphones to supplement their shopper, there still is a need for an anchor like the brick-and-mortar store to serve as a hub for the shopping experience. With the help of mobile technology, retailers can level the playing field and make their physical stores more relevant.
Jerry Rightmer is president of Starmount.