How Social Data & Mobile Tech Can Improve the Retail Experience
Do you remember when your favorite retailer didn’t have a website? Can you imagine not being able to find your favorite store online today? Unthinkable, right?
It’s not surprising that today’s shoppers are becoming increasingly digitally savvy. Adoption rates for smartphones and tablet devices are continuing to explode, ensuring that new mobile and social media technologies become a natural extension of a retail brand’s strategy. This tech also represents a sea change in how retailers must approach operations and consumer interactions within the four walls of a store.
The good news is that forward-looking retailers are already integrating digital, mobile and social media technology into their brick-and-mortar sales strategies as a means to connect with these digitally savvy consumers and drive real value to their bottom line.
Here are five ways retailers will be using mobile and social media to change the way we shop in 2011, both in-store and online.
1. The Apple Store Experience... Everywhere
By supporting the ability of store associates to check out and service customers anywhere in the store, the “Apple Store Experience” has earned its reputation as one of the most effective in retail. Mobile Point-of-Sale (POS) is a reality that can help eliminate long lines at checkout, reduce lost sales due to walkouts, and increase sales by providing an exceedingly personalized retailer-to-consumer interaction. Further, low-cost mobile POS devices provide retailers the opportunity to sell products outside the four walls in new venues such as pop-up stores, kiosks, special events and more.
2. Driving Store Traffic Through Location-Based Services
There is no doubting the impact location-based services have had on retail in the past year. With the goal of driving additional traffic to the store, many retailers have integrated popular tools such as Facebook Places, Foursquare, SCVNGR and others into consumer-facing applications for the iPhone, Android and other mobile devices. These tools allow retailers to easily notify potential customers of exclusive offers and deals that can only be redeemed through a visit to the store. The integration of location-based services is an easy way for retailers to engage digitally savvy customers through social media and increase store traffic. Expect to see continued growth in this space 2011.
3. Personalized Shopping Opportunities
Tools like the iPad have changed the game for retailers. Its intuitive interface and rich graphics have been integrated into retail software that empowers sales associates with information where they need it most –- at the point of customer contact. No more dragging the customer to the front of the store to find a terminal and "search" for items.
Imagine an associate in a luxury apparel store being able to schedule one-on-one shopping appointments with his top customers on the fly. If a particular item is not in stock, an associate can pull it up on his tablet and have it shipped directly to the customer. Using the iPad for personalized selling provides retailers with the ability to view the customer’s shopping history, product preferences, past purchases and favorite items –- and use this information to suggest relevant accessories and matching outfits based on items the shopper already owns.
4. Establishing New Online Communities of Loyal Shoppers
Most retailers have already jumped on the Twitter and Facebook bandwagon to offer consumers inside brand information, exclusive deals and incentives to visit store locations. Now that retailers have existing communities of loyal "fans" of their brand, how can they translate that into increased sales?
One way is to seamlessly integrate a mobile aspect into the social media presence. For instance, mobile applications where consumers can send branded coupons or gift certificates to friends and family are becoming popular. Another great example is JCPenney's implementation of a store where shoppers can complete transactions within its branded Facebook Page. Other innovations include quick apps that allow consumers to scan a barcode with their phone’s camera and share product information with their friends through social media.
5. Interaction Between E-Commerce and Store Systems
Next-generation retail mobility tools that are being incorporated by retailers are “smarter” than they were in the past. But what does this mean in the real world?
Retailers now have the ability to integrate data from POS store systems to provide a comprehensive view of customer data, sales history, inventory management and product availability. By linking these previously disconnected aspects of retail technology, devices and store systems can now “talk” to each other to easily identify customer data with inventory and product information, leading to a more well-rounded and efficient selling experience.
With these new “smart” retail technologies, shoppers can now browse products in-store while a sales associate uses a mobile device to flag select items for the consumer to view later on the retailer’s website or on a mobile device.
Not Acting Is Not an Option
Changing consumer behaviors –- combined with new, affordable technologies and easy-to-use "brand appropriate" mobile devices –- are putting increasing pressure on retailers to step up their game in a big way. Failure to act on a comprehensive social media and mobile strategy is not an option for retailers, and those who do not act run the risk of being left behind and will be forced to play catch up. Imagine a retailer without a website today, and you will have a sense of the importance of getting this right.