Looming large

Attracting customers through your doors has always been the focus for retailers – but now you are looking for potential consumers whether they are walking past your store, sitting at their computer or on the bus.

The increase in popularity of smartphones has transformed the world of retail and it is becoming ever-more vital to make sure your business is offering the right things, in the right way at the right time. But how can you make sure you are the company of choice for both the traditional store browser and the tech-savvy digital shopper?
Just how important it has become to keep mobile users in mind is shown by recent Ofcom figures that show smart phone penetration has reached 40 per cent of adults in the UK.

But your focus should go beyond simply developing your brand and focus just as much on the local area of your store. As Liz Deverell-Smith, planner for Amaze says: “While mobile is integral at a brand level, it should also be a key consideration at the local level. According to data by Google’s Our Mobile Planet, 85 per cent of UK smart phone consumers have performed a search for local information. 54 per cent have then connected with the local business, 59 per cent have visited the businesses, and 32 per cent have made a purchase from that business. In order to remain competitive, retailers must adopt a new method of transacting that integrates emerging consumer behaviours and technological trends.”

Though on the subject of which retailers are really impressing her with their mobile channels, it’s one that is setting new ground that catches her eye. “Burberry is a great example of a retailer brand that has adopted digital technologies to drive sales and enhance customer service. Well known for its use of mobile technologies to integrate the online and offline shopping experiences, Burberry allows its customers to watch live streams of catwalk shows via mobile and tablet devices, and immediately purchase the products they see.”

But new breakthroughs and ideas are being created all the time as the potential of smart phones continues to be explored by forward-thinking retailers, with technology being evolved to meet the needs of today’s customer in ways that could revolutionise how they go about their shopping trips.

For some time customers at Waitrose have been able to use the store’s self-scanning machines to tally up their basket as they go around the store, but this new technology sees customers able to walk around stores using their mobile phone camera to scan the barcodes of what they buy. Then you have the choice of having your phone scanned by a cashier and paying there, or even buying through PayPal or an e-wallet and walking straight to the car.

Thei technology, created by PCMS, also allows stores to ‘push’ data, such as receipts and vouchers, to mobile phones to customers in or near their stores – or indeed for the customers to look for information and vouchers.

PCMS are also working on some new technology in Canada with grocery stores, which allows customers to pre-register details such as allergies and favourite foods, which will drive the vouchers they are offered. It will even see the shopper alerted if they are purchasing an item that contains a product someone in the family is allergic to.

Another new twist on old technology has been created by Fujitsu, working with plus-size catalogue store Simply Be as they have branched out into the High Street. David Lowrence, client engagement manager (retail) for Fujitsu UK and Ireland, says the tools they have installed are an example of old technology being used in new ways.

“We have ‘Magic Mirrors’ in the changing rooms, which customers can use to take a photo of themselves and send it straight to their social network account to get immediate opinions from their friends, who will see it on their smart phones or computers straight away. The second phase is to virtualise that so customers can superimpose clothes onto their image. Some of the early implementation of that looked a bit like doll cut-outs from years ago, so nothing really fitted, but we have done a lot of work so it’s a much better image. At the opening session of the mirror the queues were immense and everyone really liked it.” He adds that other big changes will cover repayments, which in the future will see retailers contact the customer’s phone, which will in turn talk to the bank and allow the customer who authorise the payments. No personal information will be sent across and it gives the customer control of their payments, while also meaning they don’t have to remember passwords.

But the future won’t only see changes that help the consumer – there will also be benefits for the small retailers, as MasterCard’s VP of mobile business development, James Davlouros, points out. “We are investing in new technology surrounding payments, including ways to enable smart phones to become points of sale. A small dongle will allow you to take payments with the phone, so you can accept them
in a simple way without needing to have big devices or contactless.”

However, while the benefits of putting a real focus on mobile retailing seem clear, there are a range of pitfalls for those who rush into using mobile channels without looking at what their customers really want – and indeed when, where and how they want it.

Davlouros adds: “Consumers are already experiencing many things that retailers should avoid. They get bombarded with information about products they have already bought or spammed with details of things they simply don’t want. We try to help retailers by providing the right information and give them the power to connect with customers in the right way.”

Getting to know the customer you are trying to reach is vital if you want to draw the consumer in and keep them from heading to your rivals, says Omid Rezvani, director of mobile solutions for eCommera.

“Your mobile strategy should look at how you use the devices, which are very precious and personal, to get your message across to your consumer and learn their behaviour. You should aim to reach your customer in their comfort zone – making sure you do not appear intrusive by using methods like bombarding them with text messages.

“When developing a mobile strategy, don’t just think ‘how can I sell’, think how you can use it to educate yourself to enable a sale. Also, don’t rush out and develop an app that copies your website – people lose faith, delete your app and forget about you, and it’s hard to win them back.”

But despite the potential pitfalls, there is no doubt that you must be willing to invest in your technology if you want to reach your customers and get them to pick you over a competitor.

Rezvani notes: “Mobile channels are an area where it’s worth committing resources going forward, but compared to everything else retailers are spending they really don’t have to pay out too much – as long as they choose the right partner.Investment has to be there so your partners can manage things and evolve your technology, because the technology moves faster than we do. What you are building is not a stand-alone app, you must create a bridge through all of your other channels, so your consumer can stand on that bridge and decide which way is best for them to travel.”

But Fujitsu’s Lowrence says retailers have no choice but to put significant amounts to create the right mobile service, adding: “If they don’t, then they will be left behind – it really is as simple as that. The days of the traditional till are over, which will be replaced by a mobile till belonging to the retailer. Then we will see checkouts move over to the customer. Retailers will have to make sure that journey works.”
And with the speed in which mobile channels are evolving, with new technology being trialled and released all of the time – such as that of Burberry, PCMS, Fujitsu and MasterCard – that journey, and all of the preparation retailers need to make for it, is looming larger and larger on the horizon.

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