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09/17/2015

Retail Mobile Apps Should Improve, Not Kill, Brick and Mortar Experience

The discussion around the “retail crisis” in every corner of the globe has been going on for years, and it’s accurately attributed to the rise of mobile devices and the connected shoppers that can’t seem to put them down.
 
You can’t really blame the retailers for finding themselves in the midst of this crisis, or for perhaps even initially thinking they may be immune to it. The existing retail business model has worked successfully for nearly two hundred years, and having your floorplan described as a “showroom” was once a badge of honor.
 
Skip ahead to today and any foot traffic that a showroom does manage to get is likely only there to test out the merchandise before whipping out their mobile device and leaving to purchase the same goods for less money online.
 
This is what is keeping retail management up at night. Retail enterprises that have spent decades focused on inventory and beating the prices of their next door neighbor are losing their customers in droves to a software industry much more in tune with today’s customer wants and needs.
 
In the classic “if you can’t beat them, join them” mentality, the smartest retailers are doing just that. Rather than simply pitting the internet and mobile apps against their brick and mortar predecessors and using gross sales as the sole benchmark of deciding what lives and dies, some retailers are inviting shoppers and their mobile devices into the store for a UX that neither option can provide on their own.
 
I’m not saying this is easy; software development that results in continuously satisfied customers never is, and is certainly never “done.” But the amount of consumer data that mobile devices can quickly share, the dataware being used to make insightful predictions, and the Internet of Things baked into in-store beacons all combine to create a massive opportunity for data scientists, integration testers, and UX designers to save physical stores once thought dead.
 
Over the last twelve months, Matt McIlwain, Managing Director at Madrona Venture Group, has seen a sharp increase in the number of innovative companies who are going far beyond data storage, and that we’re living in the “dawn of dataware.” McIlwain writes:
 
“Dataware is the combination of infrastructure, data intelligence systems that apply algorithms and machine learning to the data, and the applications enabled by data intelligence that are changing how we do business and how we live our lives every day.”
 
McIlwain credits this dawn to the “blending of data with what were rather static services” in order to “unlock value in legacy systems” and thus make “every app and service smarter.” While McIlwain may be referring to software specifically when speaking of legacy systems and static services, these could easily be used to describe the often-antiquated experience of shopping inside physical stores.
 
This blending of consumer data with mobile apps, eCommerce sites, warehouses, logistics, mainframes, business intelligence platforms, and other steps that impact the buyers’ journey can quickly result in a serious headache for those trying to keep them up to date and running smoothly.
 
As the number of shopping channels grows, so do their dependencies on each other, and their need to remain seamlessly integrated. With various inventories, fluctuating pricing and sales, loyalty program statuses and geo-location data all changing every second, the ability to not just maintain real-time records, but also use this data for business driving benefits is a monumental task.
 
Once forward-thinking retailers have implemented mobile, big data, and software connected cross-channel shopping to recapture lost business, they must constantly improve these systems to avoid falling behind again.
 
This truly is the dawn of dataware, and brick and mortar retailers are waking up each day wondering how to recreate the magic within their four walls. Those that succeed may be surprised that what initially drew customers away may be the key to getting them back.
 
Your customers’ phones are on, and in their hands. They’re using your free Wi-Fi, now just give them something more valuable to look at than your competition.

Noel Wurst, Managing Editor at Skytap, is responsible for setting and executing Skytap’s content marketing strategy. That includes overseeing the creation and distribution of high-quality, targeted content, and managing the team and external resources associated with those efforts. By leveraging deep online marketing, project management, and editorial experience, Noel plays a crucial role in helping generate and nurture leads with compelling content.