NRF 2015 Day 3: For Top Tier Companies, Improving in-Store Mobile Experiences is Key

NEW YORK—"The physical store is not dead,"  and even entities that were once Web exclusive are now investing in real estate, Deloitte’s U.S. Retail and Distribution Leader Alison Kenney Paul assured attendees during the morning keynote on day three of the National Retail Federation's Big Show. 

By and large, research findings support her belief that, while brick-and-mortar stores are still going strong, digital devices are becoming increasingly vital to retailers.

Paul pointed to evidence that suggests that most customers rely on mobile devices to inform their shopping trips, and that those who use smartphones or tablets while in stores are usually more loyal to brands. The use of mobiles, Paul said, leads to an upsurge in spending as well as increased conversion rates. Not insignifcant is the fact that eight out of 10 shoppers would rather interact with machines or kiosks than human beings while they are in stores.

Drawing on such insights, Paul offered several points of advice for companies hoping to smoothly adjust to the influences mobiles make on customer decisions. First, she recommended that leaders figure out which strategy best fits with their overall plans. "One digital strategy doesn't fit all," she said.

Paul also recommended that companies focus on creating clear brand messages that come across consistently, regardless of the medium through which they are delivered. If a promotion is being offered online, it should also be offered through the store; similarly, prices should be consistent: the customer shouldn't ever experience conflicting prices, she said.

Though she encouraged the development and improvement of new applications that ease customer interactions with the store, Paul went on to say that companies should focus on solid functionality in select areas rather than trying to cover all bases ineffectively. "User-friendliness will pay off," she said.

At Gamestop, for example, taking a more tech-savvy and interactive consumer into consideration has enabled the company to keep up with the changes, according to its president, Tony Bartell, another speaker during the session. For GameStop, "everything revolves around the store," Bartell said. "The store is where the magic happens."

Gamestop further employs a model for a highly interactive shopping environment that will engage customers with their surroundings and keep the company in their minds when they leave, Bartell said. The new store model, which is being tested and developed by teams in Austin, Texas, will give consumers options for using their phones while they’re in the store. By using beacons, the store can send push notifications to the shopper’s device and give that person information about promotions.

GameStop shoppers can also watch videos generated through their phones or share them with groups on one of the store screens. It can also help employees engage with shoppers by giving them information on the customer and provides a social media platform that store managers can use to send messages off hours.

Mike Rodgers, chief customer officer at JC Penney, then outlined his company’s strategies and how it is improving. However, he made no effort to gloss over the company's recent strategic failures. "We were humbled by the experience, and we're back now and ready to compete," he said.

One of the methods JC Penney has employed in its efforts to get back on the right path is to create more personalized and targeted experiences for customers. "At JC Penney, no one size fits all," he said.

Integral to this reimagined strategy was a new app that emphasizes the company's "three pillars": "find it," "get it," and "make it worth it." People can use the app in store to point at a barcode, scan, and make orders in store. Rodgers pointed out that this is important, since "one third of [JC Penney's] online orders are made in store."

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