Should a store-provided mobile device be an option?

Jul 21, 2014

A surprising finding from CFI Group’s Retail Satisfaction Barometer 2014 was that 41 percent of respondents said, given the choice, they would prefer a retailer provided them with a mobile device to use while shopping. The remaining 59 percent favored their personal device.

The findings admittedly “surprised” CFI given that most of the popular press has focused on phone-based mobile shopping apps, and personal devices are largely the only option at stores offering a mobile experience.

CFI believes what the customer is looking to do plays a large role in whose device they prefer.

“We suspect that doing such personal things as managing one’s shopping lists, accessing purchase history and loyalty club information, and paying for items at the cash register will favor personal devices,” CFI wrote in its report. “Doing less personal things such as locating merchandise (in-store and nearby stores), scanning items for checkout, and reading product reviews may continue to show a willingness or preference for doing these activities on a store-provided device.”

For its 2015 report, CFI also intends to clarify “whether by ‘store provided’ people are really thinking of a mobile device or rather very conveniently-located kiosks for example.”

By all indications, the only chain providing a comprehensive in-store mobile device is Ahold’s Stop & Shop chain, which has been testing Scan-It! Hand-helds since 2007. The devices enable shoppers to “Scan and bag your groceries as you shop and sail through checkout” while gaining personalized offers.

A survey last year of Ahold shoppers who used hand-held scanners from Catalina Marketing, which is working with Ahold on the test, indicated 71 found them very helpful, 47 percent said they are easy to use and 41 percent said they save time and make shopping fun. Still, only 15 percent of Shop & Stop shoppers regularly used the devices in 2012, according to Catalina’s findings. A Scan It! mobile app was introduced in 2013.

Scanners are also available for wedding registries at many department and home goods stores such as Williams & Sonoma, although many are now offering similar capabilities through apps.

Should stores provide scanning devices for those reluctant to use shopping apps on their personal devices? Are scanning product, inventory lookup and other functions essential enough for in-store shopping to provide a non-personal device option?

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16 Comments on "Should a store-provided mobile device be an option?"

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Matt Schmitt

This is the kind of thing where I’d say to be cautious of polls and surveys. Are the polled users off-handedly answering the question, or are they expressing a real desire and pain point?

It would be nice to have some adoption and usage data to see what the uptake is on such programs.

Max Goldberg

I’m concerned about the cost of acquiring and maintaining the devices. Do retailers really need to provide a device that most consumers have in their pockets and purses? And if the device asks for any personal information, will that data be securely deleted before the next shopper uses the device? I’d rather see retailers focus on improving their mobile websites and apps before investing in this technology.

Chris Petersen, PhD.

The classic answer in retail today—it depends upon the shopper and their shopping context.

Shopping for groceries is a very product-centric, shopping list, pick-and-pack style shopping. Retailer-provided scanners for that context will be sufficient and perceived as valuable, particularly if the scanners integrate coupons.

Any shopping context that involves more expensive, personalized items is more likely to be omni-channel, where the consumer journey involves shopping both online and in-store. In the omni-channel shopping context, consumers are much more likely to prefer their own devices so that they can save their research, shopping lists and any items that they place in a working shopping cart.

The research shows that a majority of shoppers prefer their own devices, and that is likely to grow. Retailers would do well to ensure that their websites and any apps are optimized for mobile before they rush to provide consumers with devices across every store. Imagine how many retailer devices would be needed in a Walmart or Costco, not to mention the challenges of damage or theft.

Mel Kleiman

Interesting survey results. I have to wonder what the other choices were. How about a choice between nothing and scanner? If that were the case, I would think that scanners would have to win out.

Ken Lonyai

“Still, only 15 percent of Shop & Stop shoppers regularly used the devices in 2012…”

What people say when responding to surveys and what they do are often two different things. I believe that while shoppers may say or believe they want store-provided devices, they are in most cases unlikely to get any more traction than the Stop & Shop experience. It’s a great case study on how reinventing technology doesn’t always work as well as intended.

Although technology and devices are my bailiwick, I would caution stores about investing in and maintaining devices whose functionality can be replicated in a person’s phone. Much better to invest in in-store technologies that enhance user’s mobile devices and in encouraging them to use them.

Paula Rosenblum

Not for nothing the Stop & Shop program has been in pilot for seven years (I actually think it’s longer, but there was a vendor change mid-stream—it was named “Shopping Buddy” in earlier incarnations).

The devices don’t get used much, and they’re a distraction for store personnel when they break.

It’s BYOD or nothing, as far as I can tell.

Robert DiPietro

Stores could augment the shopping experience by providing customers with a scanning device. It could not only help with the transaction components (e.g., locate inventory in the store or surrounding stores, or buy and ship home as well as checking out) but the big help could be providing content around the purchase (e.g., consumer reviews, lists of other items the consumer needs to complete the project or cooking recipe). The role as the silent salesperson could be just as important as the utility of it.

I’ve used the Stop & Shop Scan-It device and I love the simplicity of scanning and bagging as you go; it definitely helps with speeding the checkout. The process time to retrieve your order at POS is WAY slower than it should be. Hopefully it will be sped up in the future

Shep Hyken

Interesting idea. Most of what a store might provide in a mobile device could be found on an app. However, the in-store device might be the gateway to a customer installing a mobile app. Once the customer downloads the app it allows for a more customized shopping and marketing experience.

Tim S
3 years 4 months ago

I think an app for a tablet or phone may be the answer. I foresee too many different devices and shopper frustration. An app with some common features across multiple retailers or one that can combine shopping trip data to give users a better pictures of purchases, costs, etc. An app feels much easier for retailers to adapt and upgrade vs. a device which can limit evolution, needs upkeep and would likely become obsolete by time shoppers get comfortable with it.

Lee Kent

For scanning purposes, my two cents says BYOD! But having handy kiosks and/or devices that help me find what I’m looking for? A whole other thing.

Herb Sorensen

A handheld device is vastly inferior to an on-cart screen/device. But neither address the “real” problem in-store: store design. Jeff Bezos will KILL your rat-maze stores, by and by, unless Costco, or some other player, beats him to it. Solving the “rat maze” with a device is a poor substitute for simply designing shopper-intelligent stores. And no, shoppers would have no idea how YOU should be serving them. Jobs had it right: They won’t know what they want until you show it to them.

The ideal store? Think Amazon and Costco in a 10,000 square foot neighborhood market. “As long as shoppers live in brick-and-mortar houses, they will be shopping in brick-and-mortar stores.” Houses are in neighborhoods and stores will be in neighborhoods. The store IS a communal pantry. Duh. πŸ˜‰

Jonathan Marek

What people say on poll questions like this is not relevant. It is what they actually do that is important. And two pieces of data on that: 1.) the example you give from Stop & Shop in the article, which doesn’t sound like mass adoption. And this is anecdotal, but 2.) don’t you constantly see shoppers walking around with their own devices out? They are not necessarily using them for shopping—they are likely just texting or talking—but isn’t that the obvious habitual behavior to latch onto?

Mark Price

While the idea of a company-provided mobile device sounds appealing to customers who are valuing their privacy, those customers are likely to be a small percentage of the total customer base, and are less likely to be best customers either. Research and experience shows that customers who are multichannel are disproportionately likely to be best customers—this group is definitely not them.

Focus on effective omnichannel communication, making a consistent message to customer segments across channels and you will have a much greater impact on the overall business.

Frank Beurskens
3 years 4 months ago

Reading some of today’s comments one gets the impression that mass adoption is prerequisite for successful execution of any technology solution. I can only speak to grocery, but take issue with Catalina’s use of the word “only” in the quote, “…only 15 percent of shoppers regularly used the devices…”.

Based on internal data, an above average web site attracts approximately 20% of the weekly customer base. Mobile access of a retailer’s web site runs at about 30% (which equates to 6% of the customer base – 20% X 30%). Industry standards for an above average eNewsletter in retail achieve approximately 30% open rates and 30% click through (which equates to 9% reach).

Stores should consider responding to the “digital dessert” emerging in retail. For many retailers, the physical stores is the one place you cannot execute a digital coupon to card, or check loyalty points, or redeem digital offers, or access meal ideas associated with the weekly ad circular. Yes 15% sounds low in our “all our nothing” culture. But in the case of digital marketing, many an agency or brand would pay big bucks to capture 15% of the market.

gordon arnold

Before you know it WiFi hot zones will be a thing of the past. As wireless is getting faster and cheaper, who needs a store connection or device for any reason? Wireless apps, third party shopping and search providers along with retailer e-commerce sites will be the retailers best option for customer interface and support. This will most certainly hold true for both brick & mortar as well as e-commerce. Another opportunity to watch for is small mail and shipping stores to get in on the customer pick side of the business especially in rural parts of the world.

Kai Clarke

No. Phones are clearly becoming the mobile device of choice, and once retailers understand that they should be providing self-created apps for these, and not trying to divert the consumer away from their preferred mobile device (who wants to juggle 2 devices at once?) they will focus on enhancing cellphones not diverting attention away from them onto something else….


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