The 5 Ways Mobile Will Impact Retail

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Eighty-nine percent of retailers plan to offer mobile solutions to store associates within three years, according to a special report on mobile by Boston Retail Partners. Among the use cases, retailers are focused on significantly expanding their use of mobile technology for customer identification, customer engagement, associate training and task management, point of sale (POS), and payments. 

“Putting mobile devices in the hands of store associates is now a necessity to keep up with the customer, who has a plethora of information available at her fingertips,” said Perry Kramer, vice president and practice lead at BRP. “Associate mobile devices enhance the shopping experience by accessing real-time inventory and customer data and offering the ability to service customers and process transactions anywhere in the store.”

Kramer identified five key areas where mobile will alter the way retailers operate in the near future.

Customer identification is the first area of impact, cited by 70 percent of retailers. It involves identifying customers via their mobile devices and then using that to personalize the shopping experience, according to the report. 

“Customer identification is probably the most impactful change that mobile is enabling. If you think about retail two or three years ago, you really couldn’t identify customers until they were at the register,” Kramer says. “By identifying the customer up front and letting the store associates know when there’s a premier customer [in the store], retailers can deliver more personalized engagement.” Technologies such as mobile apps, mobile loyalty programs, and in-store Wi-Fi enable this, he adds.

The second area of impact is customer engagement, which involves delivering contextual messages based on customers’ profiles, locations, and environmental factors. Thirty-one percent of retailers plan to implement mobile tools for customer engagement within the next 12 months, the BRP research uncovered.

“It’s a different mind-set [that requires] retailers to get their associates out from behind the counter and really working with the customer shoulder to shoulder,” Kramer says. 

Once mobile programs are working properly, they will allow retailers to look at what specific customers bought last month, factor in things like weather, and do promotional pricing based on those elements. These, he explains, can “make the engagement between the sales associate and the consumer very personalized and relevant.”

The third area of impact, associate training and task management, requires using mobile tools to improve training and to shift tasks from the back room to the sales floor. “A lot of time [is] spent in every retail store managing tasks, Kramer says. “If you can do that on the tablet, you’re way ahead versus trying to manage in the back room.”

Mobile POS is the fourth area of impact. By 2020, 84 percent of retailers will use mobile POS in their stores, according to the research.

Kramer identifies two key situations in which mobile POS can be implemented. The first is during peak times, allowing retailers to set up checkouts at different times of the year and make better use of selling space in the store. The second use is line busting. “Customers don’t want to wait in line,” he says. “If you’re waiting behind more than two customers, the average person is disappointed in the selling experience.”

The fifth and final area of impact is mobile pay, which hasn’t been as frictionless as some organizations had hoped, according to Kramer. But that is starting to change, and mobile payment acceptance is finally increasing rapidly, with fewer retailers taking a wait-and-see approach.

“I think where we really see the expansion [of mobile pay] is with the things that we do on a daily routine,” like purchases at Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts, Kramer says. He notes that consumers today are much more comfortable paying in advance and using the app as part of their payment. 

“In the next two to three years, you’re really going to see retailers invest in mobile payment and link it to their loyalty programs,” he says. “If you can link mobile pay to loyalty and customer identification, it’s a huge win.”

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