Navigating the Mobile Retail Space in 2015

Retailers are breaking convention to cultivate approaches that take the mobile customer experience to the next level.
Customer Experience

Emerging technologies constantly renew the fear of change. But leaders within the retail space need not dread the new, for these tools have the power to breathe life back into the old brick-and-mortar store.

Smartphones first entered the scene when Apple unveiled the iPhone in 2007. Since then, these gadgets have evolved into extensions of most consumers' personal being. Many use their smartphones or tablets to consult apps and the mobile Web, thereby treating these tools much like surrogate brains. Yet, with every inquiry, shoppers supply retailers with insight into their thoughts and behaviors, opening brands up to an entirely new world of granular data.

In this era of mobile connectivity, customers come prepared with product and pricing knowledge. But, just as shoppers know what they're looking for, retailers, too, can utilize these tools to collect information and apply these preferences to the individual customer experience for enhanced personalization.

"Consumers are walking into stores armed with more information and education than ever before," says Maya Mikhailov, executive vice president and co-founder of GPShopper. "They're no longer wholly reliant on sales associates telling them about product information, reviews, and price. Shoppers have access to all of that data at their fingertips. Retailers who embrace this new empowered mobile consumer, and use the device to tailor communication with them, will thrive in this new retail environment."

According to one recent study by and Forrester Research, mobile remains the top priority for 58 percent of retailers in 2015, up from 53 percent last year, thereby indicating that retailers recognize this channel's lasting importance. Retailers that pinpoint weaknesses in their brick-and-mortar experience are especially poised for success, as these inefficiencies represent opportunities to integrate mobile tactics that enhance customer experience. Many brands, of course, linger at the beginning stages of their mobile strategies, for they cannot quite grasp which technologies do or don't deserve investment. Yet none can deny that, while online and mobile capabilities were once seen as threats to the in-store experience, such tools now represent the chance to develop an omnichannel relationship that supports engagement.

"From the retailer's perspective, mobile has exposed the limitations of their existing systems, such as disconnected data that doesn't allow for a single view of the customer or inventory availability, and the inability to deliver real-time updates for better personalization" says Gary Lombardo, vice president of marketing at CashStar. "All of these types of capabilities are essential to satisfying the consumer's in-store and overall omnichannel shopping experience, and most retailers don't have this figured out yet, often harming the consumers' perception of the shopping experience."

March 2015: Mobile Engagement

Read the related article "Mobile Engagement"

Over the years, fears of showrooming have swelled, as retailers worried that mobile devices would hinder in-store sales. But, according to one study, 88 percent of consumers webroom, indicating that mobile now drives shoppers into stores to complete their purchases. Therefore, to differentiate service, retailers must equip employees with mobile devices in order to streamline the brick-and-mortar experience.

Clienteling provides sales associates with customer history and information right at their fingertips-something that often sets the online and in-store experiences apart. Branden Jenkins, general manager of global retail at NetSuite, notes that, by giving sales associates access to real-time product and customer data, brands can empower staff to start improving in-store engagement and conversions. Retailers must create a consistent brand experience that's immersive and seamless across all channels and touchpoints, and that provides the same set of functionality and tools to the consumer and the sales associate in order to empower both. Many retailers fail to realize that mobile innovation shouldn't focus just on the average consumer, but their staff, as well, for these frontline employees hold the key to experiential success.

Retailers must also recognize that there are many different types of shoppers and that one single path to purchase will not satisfy all consumers. Mobile, however, allows brands to cater to the various individuals who come their way each day. For shoppers who seek advice, mobile empowers sales associates with the knowledge necessary to close the sale. For shoppers who want to buy their items quickly, mobile enables self-service, allowing consumers to scan and pay for products via smartphone. Ultimately, differentiation develops based upon how retailers employ these emerging technologies, not the tools themselves. Thus, brands must align their strategies and goals in order to determine how to best serve their customer bases.

Mobile Sn(app)shot: Highlighting the Leading Retail Mobile Apps (Thus Far)

While mobile applications have become increasingly popular, many brands have yet to adopt an effective foundational strategy. Compelled by the need to establish their mobile presence, many companies opt to build applications that ultimately fail to support their overarching mission. Thus, while these apps hold great potential for further development in the future, most prove ineffective in the present. However, numerous leading brands have set the precedent for successful mobile apps, for these tools enhance the customer experience, influence consumer decisions, and increase sales conversions. Though only a small sampling of what's available, the following mobile applications standout from the crowd in terms of social buzz, popularity, and overall convenience:

  • Wal-Mart-With Savings Catcher, Wal-Mart brings its dedication to unbeatable prices to the next level. Using the camera on their smartphones, consumers can scan the barcode on their receipt, at which point the Savings Catcher app will search and match the price of any local competitor's printed ad for an identical item. Savings Catcher will then reward customers the price difference in the form of an eGift card, reinforcing their devotion to delivering the best deals.
  • Target-Cartwheel allows customers to collect coupons and savings without ever lifting scissors. Shoppers need only choose from the hundreds of offers available within the app and load them into their cart. In the store, shoppers must show their printed or mobile barcode to the cashier to redeem their savings. Customers can user the offers repeatedly, while also stacking them on top of other coupons, sales, or REDcard savings to maximize their in-store discount.
  • Starbucks-Available on both iPhone and Android, Starbuck's mobile app enables customers to pay for their order using their smartphone. Features, such as Shake to Pay, provide instant access to one's Starbucks card, allowing them to save time in line. Customers can also track and redeem rewards and personalized offers, or leave a digital tip for their barista. Starbucks has also begun testing Mobile Order & Pay, which will allow consumers to order ahead of time.
  • Apple-With the Apple Store app, the leading retailer has virtually eliminated the need to speak with a sales associate in-store, at least when it comes to small purchases. Using EasyPay within the app, shoppers can quickly purchase accessories at any Apple retail location by scanning and paying for the items directly in-app. Consumers can also begin their online orders on one device and finish on another, facilitating the streamlined experience for which Apple is notorious.
  • Sephora-Known as Sephora to Go, the beauty product retailer allows customers to connect with the brand and one another via mobile. Shoppers can scan products in-store to instantly read the ratings and reviews of their fellow customers. Shoppers can see what's in stock at their nearest location, explore recommendations, and reorder past purchases. Sephora also offers inspiration, giving users access to makeup tips and tutorials, as well as its popular Beauty Board.

But, as Mark Harrington, vice president of marketing at Clutch, notes, companies cannot succeed just by developing an app or social account based upon the 'if you build it, they will come' mantra. These leaders understand how customers interact with their brands and what they need to deliver powerful, consistent experiences. By gaining a holistic view of the customer's interactions and tendencies, retailers can create an omnichannel strategy that aligns with what consumers truly want.