June 9, 2014, 9:47 AM

The ‘store of the future’ is incomplete without mobile technology

Many consumers use mobile phones while in stores, and retailers must provide them the information they need via mobile sites and apps or risk losing sales. An Adobe executive points to several retail chains that do this well.

In a recent post on the Store of the Future, I wrote about how a well-merchandised showroom is an integral part of moving into and succeeding in the future of retail. Great retailers are already using technology to evolve their brick and mortar locations, and mobile is a large part of that. Both the mobile web and mobile apps are being accessed in stores more than ever before, and retailers must find a way to make “showrooming” work for them.

Then, there’s the relatively new term “reverse showrooming,” which has recently been coined, but has been around as long as the Internet. In reverse showrooming, consumers go online to research products, and then visit the brick and mortar store to complete their purchase. Many times this is done while in the retailer’s store. In fact, according to BI intelligence, 69 percent of shoppers in the U.S. have reverse showroomed. More retailers are beginning to realize that consumers are doing this, and they’re taking steps to ensure they have an effective omnichannel experience across their entire shopping experience, from e-commerce to in-store, by building a digital in-store experience. This in-store experience can be achieved with new technologies such as kiosks, mobile web and mobile apps, and it can be done without ever talking to a salesperson.

Picture me standing in your retail store, trying to compare or learn more about a category of products. All you have on your mobile site is product information and text that’s designed to catch a sale. But how do I determine which product is right for my needs?  Mobile web sites should answer any questions consumers might have—without sending them to Google to look for additional information. If you do, there’s a good chance you’ll not only miss the sale opportunity in that retail store, but the online purchase could be from a competitor.

Recently, I went into a sporting goods store to buy an “ultralight” sleeping bag for solo camping trips. On these trips, I bring only enough gear to fit on my small one-person kickboat. I’d heard sleeping bags “the size of a cantaloupe” existed, and I wanted to see them in person. When I got into the store, I couldn’t figure out where these sleeping bags were and how they compared to others. My big goal in visiting the store was product discovery and comparison. I couldn’t find that information on the retailer’s mobile site, and I was having trouble finding an associate in-store, as well. As you can imagine, once I reverted to researching other sources online from my phone, standing in the store, I started to learn about other products this retailer didn’t even sell. Through this I was also exposed to other retailers, their sales, etc. At this point, I (and I’m sure others) sought out a competing store/brand.

It turns out shoppers who use a smartphone or digital device at any time during their shopping journey are 40 percent more likely to purchase than those who do not. Consumers use their smartphones to research and purchase while in-store and check prices, product reviews and available inventory. Retailers need to find ways to inspire them to make purchases in the physical store or on their website. A number of stores offer free Wi-Fi to consumers to keep them on their own site, and data shows that while 25 percent of showroomers do leave stores to purchase from a competitor after showrooming, even more purchase from the store’s own site, at 29 percent. This doesn’t account for consumers that decide to go through the checkout line, either; that’s a large and growing number, as the graphic below illustrates (“US Cross-Channel Retail Forecast, 2012 To 2017”, Forrester Research, Inc., October 29, 2013”). With more consumers accessing retailers’ web sites from their smartphone on the go, it becomes especially important to target these consumers with mobile-specific deals and the relevant information I wanted in my own sporting goods experience.

Of course, with the linking of physical stores, e-commerce web sites, mobile sites and apps (and beyond) comes the challenge of creating a seamless customer experience. Here are a few examples of retailers that have found innovative ways to incorporate consumers’ mobile practices with their brick and mortar visits.

  • Neiman Marcushas an app that lets salespeople know when a regular customer enters the store and gives them access to purchase history and shopping preferences. This allows consumers to access products they’re interested in based on purchase history. The app can also alert consumers if their preferred sales associates are currently working in the store. This supports an extremely unique and tailored shopping experience.
  • Urban Outfitters and its sister chain, Anthropologie, are among the 22 percent of brands that now allow shoppers to see if a specific item is in stock at a retail location from their web sites’ product pages.
  • Starbuckshas two pretty incredible apps that are helpful in-store. TheStarbucks Card Mobile appallows consumers to show their Starbucks Card barcode and make purchases at the register, as well as see their previous purchases and track reward points. The myStarbucksapp has a drink builder, coffee and food menu, store locator and QR code scanner. So, if consumers don’t want to stare at the menu above the register, they can just build their skinny mocha lattes via mobile.
  • Home Depothas an app that allows it to know once a customer enters a store. The app utilizes GPS to provide a store-specific menu that helps the consumer find particular items tailored to their needs. Customers can view detailed store maps to help them on their journey and can tap on the aisle where a product is located to see it on this map.  
  • Acehas a mobile app that allows customers to receive additional information about products by easily scanning them on their smartphone. This app includes ratings, reviews and even some of the key features that may not be listed on the shelf. This gives the consumer more power and helps him/her better determine what product is right for them.
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