Using Mobile To Bridge In-Store Information Gap

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Mobility and information are two of the strongest technology forces facing retailers today. There is a huge communication gap between tech-savvy shoppers and offline store employees. Consumers are well prepared and equipped when they visit a store to shop. Increasingly they use their smart phones to control multiple aspects of their digital life. They search the internet for product information, compare and evaluate offers and look for the best deals via price comparison websites, a phenomenon called ‘show rooming’ that is threatening the in-store sales channel. This access to mobile information has become one of the shopper’s most powerful tools and yet retailers have mostly failed to equip their staff in a similar way, opening up the potential to lose out in a consumer versus retailer mobile technology arms race.

Indian retail market – an Overview

The Indian retail market is expected to touch a whopping Rs. 47 lakh crore by 2016-17, according to a recent report by Yes Bank and Assocham. Further, the Indian retail market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 13 percent till 2018. Globally, India is among the top 10 retail markets in the world. In 2013, the Indian retail sector was estimated to be worth $520 billion and was among the largest employers in the country. By 2018, the Indian retail sector is likely to grow to a size of $950 billion.

With this in mind, the in-store platform still remains as the number one place where consumers make their buying decisions and purchases. Wider adoption of mobile technology and greater use of truly customer-centric applications will prove an essential tool in preserving the strength of the in-store channel against the growth of online, mobile and omni-channel competition.

Mobility and information gap

The question is even more relevant when we look at how the new connected shoppers master mobility and information. Today’s consumers are well prepared and knowledgeable about the products they want to purchase. Before entering a store, they may have searched the web for detailed information, compared product features and prices, consulted ratings at product comparison sites and evaluated other customers’ opinions on social networks.

Used to the immediacy of online retail channels, shoppers expect in-store personnel to be at least as informed and knowledgeable as they are, looking for personalized service and care that continues to make in-store shopping the main retail channel.  However, even the best-informed store assistant cannot amass detailed knowledge for each product available on the shelf without the help of mobile access to online information.

This information gap in today’s relationship between the in-store sales staff and the connected shopper is costing multi-store brands the most important high street asset: customers’ loyalty.

The empowered sales assistant

To engage with such demanding and connected customers, store staff needs to be empowered with tools that allow immediate access to real-time information on product features, stock availability, prices and promotions, making them more effective and prepared to face and interact with the omni-channel shoppers. The goal is to increase both in-store profitability and enhance the in-store customer shopping experience.

Leading retailers are deploying the latest mobile solutions to empower the virtual teams working across their store networks. Connected via wireless LAN, they can look up product details from the corporate store system or if necessary browse the internet for additional information.  Once mobilized, the sales assistant does not have to leave the customer to go to a computer terminal in the backroom to find the correct answers. Right on the shop floor they can see if the item is available at another store, on the online channel or when it will be replenished and offer a direct delivery, or have it ready to be picked up the next day.

For a long time retailers have been using mobile data entry systems for inventory management tasks. Now leading companies are using the latest multi-function mobile solutions to add customer-facing applications and bring customer experience at the center of in-store processes.

Innovation through mobile

Excelsior, a new luxury department store in Milan, uses an innovative retail format with only a limited number of items displayed on its shelves. The clean aesthetics draw attention to its exquisite interior design, but more importantly, the format also encourages greater interaction between sales staff and customers, leading a superior personalized experience.

On the display shelves, unique items of every product are exhibited, while the rest of the product range, such as different sizes and colors is kept in basement stock rooms. Customer requests are handled through real-time communication between the point-of- sale staff engaged with the customer and the stock-room staff, called runners.

When a customer requests a product specification that is not on display, the sales staff check stock room availability in real time using their multi-function mobile devices equipped with application software for product range management. In case of a positive response, a message is sent to the runners in the stock room requesting that the item is immediately brought up to the store for the customer. Every runner is also provided with a mobile device and uses it to verify in real time the fulfillment of the request. When voice communication is required, the point-of-sale staff and the runners can also use the phone function of their mobile devices.

This innovative application of mobile technology drives greater sales staff productivity and a better shopping experience for customers: Excelsior can also use it to provide sales staff with real-time information regarding available offers in the store. Moreover, sales assistants can give more personalized assistance to customers by providing a real-time response to inquiries about the product range, prices and promotions.

Battle against “Showrooming”

“Showrooming” is the growing trend that sees shoppers try out products in-store but buy them cheaper on the web, often using their smart mobile phones while still on the retailer’s premises. Retailers and their sales teams can counter this trend by taking full advantage of mobile access to data and systems.

For every retailer, full transparency of customer data enables sales assistants to make personalized offers and advise on new offerings to complement previous purchases. With a mobile device in hand they can access vital information, such as brand preferences, sizes, names of family members or birthdays, or they can interact with shoppers by reading the mobile loyalty card or by redeeming mobile coupons stored on a shopper’s smartphone as digital QR codes.

Sales assistants can compare prices on the internet and make a counter-offer based on the margin of the product, or knowledge about planned promotions and the customer’s shopping history. Sales assistants can also use the same multi-function mobile device as a mobile POS to complete the sales transaction on the spot, at the point of decision, saving the shoppers precious time spent in a queue, or finally capture returns from the customers and update inventory in real time.

Further, over 40 percent of customers want to check product prices wherever they are and get promotions based on the items they scan. More so, 50 percent are willing to use a personal mobile device to avoid the checkout lane. Hence, retailers have to make the completion of the shopping process as easy as possible. This includes providing the right services and letting consumers choose how they interact. 

Making the right connection

The world’s most innovative retailers go beyond productivity enhancements to focus on flexibility and connectivity in their in-store processes. The same mobile device platform and sales processes that are used to counter showrooming can also be used to engage with and help brands adapt their offering almost in real time. For by doing so, can retailers truly build greater customer loyalty and retain shoppers in this vastly changing world of consumer choices and consumer platforms.