Turn Showrooming into Your Competitive Advantage

"Showrooming" refers to the practice of consumers browsing merchandise in a physical store while simultaneously shopping online for the best price on merchandise. Consumers use apps that scan bar codes and guide users to e-tailers, who have no investment in physical infrastructure. In effect, traditional retailers have created the "showroom" for online competitors.

With this development, retailers might be forgiven for considering mobile technologies a threat to their profit margins — if not their business. But retailers must shift their mindset since showrooming is not going away and this is how consumers are shopping today. For instance, 56 percent of apparel shoppers are using their mobile devices to compare prices, according to a recent publication by the ANA. This shift has implications for everything from marketing to sales.

Fortunately, the latest technologies enable retailers to move from defense to offense. Instead of worrying about showrooming, retailers can reinvigorate the competitive advantage of great customer service. It all starts with offering shoppers access to the in-store network and analyzing their behaviors as they shop in the store and online simultaneously. The ubiquity of mobile devices has driven a network environment that plays to retailer advantages — if they architect to do so.

Consumers are increasingly expecting access to Wi-Fi networks as they enter virtually any building. That expectation reflects our cultural shift to constant connectivity but also a desire to transfer from cellular networks to local area networks wherever possible as all-you-can-eat data plans disappear from the major telecommunications carriers. Consumers are looking to reduce their reliance on cellular data networks whenever the opportunity arises.

Retailers can offer them just such an opportunity. By greeting customers on the in-store Wi-Fi network, store managers can gain valuable insight into consumer behavior and take action on that information. No other shopping experience can combine the physical and online worlds to create a new level of customer service.

5-point plan to re-invigorating customer service
Pleasqnt music and courteous, informed sales people defined customer service in previous eras. Today, technology offers a new era of customer service for traditional retailers.

Guest Wi-Fi. Guest Wi-Fi access is a gateway for both consumers and store managers to that new era. In the store, care must be taken to ensure enough bandwidth in the network for a smooth experience even at peak traffic times such as sales promotions. Simplified sign-on and the use of social media authentication processes make it easy to bring guests onto the network, and that process can be automated for subsequent visits. Secure authentication using 802.1x is recommended for retailers planning to offer mobile or online payments.

Proactive engagement using analytics. Behind this network infrastructure, presence and location technologies, and analytics engines provide insights into consumer behavior. These insights can be produced in real time and provide advantages for the retailer and the customer service imperative alike. Insights gleaned in real time can be combined with other programs, such as customer loyalty accounts, to tailor an offer to that customer in that moment. Coupons can be pushed to the consumer device to offer an incentive to walk out of the store with merchandise in hand rather than wait for delivery from an online retailer.

Arm associates with mobile devices. This behind-the-scenes infrastructure can be tied back to the showroom floor by arming sales associates with mobile tools as well. They can be dispatched to help a given customer or simply use enterprise mobile devices to provide additional information such as inventory, pricing, and product comparison, when engaged with a customer.

Mobile devices — in the hands of associates hands or consumers — can be used to close a sale on the spot. Even if the specific item, brand or color is not in stock at the store, the consumer can still make the decision to buy. Products can be shipped directly from the warehouse to the consumer’s home, and this extra step in customer service can help to establish or reaffirm loyalty.

Multi-channel strategy. Incorporating a mobile engagement strategy into core business operations provides long-term, strategic benefits. Mobile devices present a growing consumer touchpoint for marketing and customer service. Consumers report that they are spending 10 percent of their media time on mobile devices It is a gateway through which the omnichannel shopper is increasingly choosing to interact with the world.

Mobile apps. Retailers can leverage that same portal to increase engagement with the brand. Mobile apps are a further step once consumers find it natural to purchase from a retailer through the device. The smartphone application is both an enabler and a delivery vehicle for location-based services like in-store product search, couponing, indoor navigation, getting in-store help, and more.

Strategically, the most important outcome is that the advantages of investing in physical infrastructure are restored to the retailer. Retailers can return to the customer service mindset, confident that mobile technologies have once again leveled the playing field.

Taqi Mohiuddin is senior manager, product marketing and leads product and solutions marketing activities for the Enterprise Networking and Communications products at Motorola Solutions.
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