RSR Research:  What Role Will Mobile Play in Stores?

Discussion
Aug 05, 2010
Nikki Baird

By Nikki Baird, Managing Partner

Through a special arrangement, presented here
for discussion is a summary of an article from Retail Paradox, Retail
Systems Research’s weekly analysis on emerging issues facing retailers.

Store
operations have rarely taken the time to understand e-commerce — the technology
or the channel — a group of six chief information officers (CIOs) from an
array of retail verticals told me at a round table discussion at RIS
News

Executive Summit event. And so mobile is yet another development in an area
of poor understanding,

What’s different about mobile vs. online retail is the visibility that stores
have into the effect mobile has on shopping behavior. Online shopping was an
at-home activity, so it had little direct effect on store operations. Mobile,
on the other hand, is often an at-the-shelf activity, and front line employees
find themselves dealing with a whole new set of questions from better informed
customers.

Unfortunately for the CIOs at the table, the discussion with store
operations has revolved around a fear reaction — a “Can we wrap our stores
in tin foil” kind
of discussion. So, given that stores’ response to mobile right now is to basically
freak out over consumers using their phones to price compare at the shelf, what
is the current thinking on the role of mobile in stores?

CIOs apparently have
more imagination than their store operations counterparts. This is where the
discussion turned in a completely new and positive direction. The consensus
was that kiosks are simply too expensive and need to be replaced. Retailers
are thinking about mobile to replace the kiosk as a customer service tool or
some kind of customer mobile concierge. But, back in the land of practicality,
what most of the CIOs at the table are currently striving for is parity. They
want to make sure employees are at least even with what customers have and
know when they walk in a store.

At
the same time, the retailers at the table were also very concerned with how
to manage the relevancy that a mobile in-store experience can provide. Yes,
they want increased relevancy and see mobile as a way to provide all the mass
elements of a kiosk, personalized to the person holding the device. But, they
are not sure how to increase in-store relevancy (especially with an employee
as part of the service mix) without creeping out customers.

Discussion Questions: Do you see mobile technology as a tool to work with
in-store kiosks or a replacement for the units? How can in-store employees become
part of a personalized selling/service environment using mobile technology without
crossing a privacy line that would “creep out” consumers?

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17 Comments on "RSR Research:  What Role Will Mobile Play in Stores?"


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Max Goldberg
Guest
10 years 9 months ago

Retailers will not achieve parity with consumers until they are prepared to train, equip and reward employees for gathering information and providing an excellent customer experience. Consumers are willing to share personal data if they get something of value in return. Are retailers willing to change their selling models to accommodate this type of more personal approach?

David Biernbaum
Guest
10 years 9 months ago

Mobile will play the role inside the store that it is set up to do, in most instances where it’s thought out and planned properly with a consumer-centric approach.

Susan Rider
Guest
Susan Rider
10 years 9 months ago

This is a phenomenal opportunity and the potential applications are endless. For instance, a consumer can pick a color and size they are looking at and the application can direct them to the location of the options. The consumer can request accessories to go with a certain SKU, check inventory at other stores, etc.

Joel Rubinson
Guest
10 years 9 months ago

Whenever a new technology emerges, we first see it through the eyes of the technology being replaced. The first surveys online looked like CATI on the web. Randy Pausch said it was 15 years before directors thought to film closeups in movies because that was an alien concept to theatrical plays.

The possibilities for mobile are not yet understood because we are seeing the platform through internet, shopper marketing and couponing lenses.

Mobile is the biggest thing imaginable.

Gib Bassett
Guest
Gib Bassett
10 years 9 months ago

This is a really tough question because the options here are literally endless. However, lowest common denominator applications for mobile include product finders to direct customers to the part of the store where they can find the desired item. What’s interesting about that is how it jibes with store layout design and how the path a customer takes through a store can influence impulse buys or complements to a considered purchase.

Allowing frustrated customers to quickly contact a store associate for help is another very logical application, as is allowing customers to log feedback on the store shopping experience for analysis/improvement.

Helping customers better achieve their goals in visiting a store should lead any discussion around how mobile fits with retail environments.

Doug Stephens
Guest
Doug Stephens
10 years 9 months ago

I see mobile transforming retail environments and experiences in two ways.

Self-serve environments will be become more truly self-serve while delivering a very efficient shopping experience. Product specs, instructions, shopping aids, store navigation and more will be at the consumers finger tips.

On the other hand, in high-service environments, staff will use mobile apps to help them deliver a higher-fidelity service experience. Customer purchase information, product selection tools, ordering systems and more will enable staff to deliver a concierge level of service.

I honestly don’t see privacy concerns impeding the progress of mobile apps, once the benefits to the consumer begin to become realized.

Steve Montgomery
Guest
10 years 9 months ago

I agree with Max, but we have to remember that the customer has researched one or at most a few items. The retailer may stock double digits of similar items and this inherently places them at somewhat a disadvantage. This is especially true when the customer has researched competitive items the retailer may not carry.

It would be impossible for any sales associate to be familiar with not only their store’s selection but also those of other retailers and potentially, online competitors as well.

Liz Crawford
Guest
10 years 9 months ago

I’m not sure that creeping out customers is a real concern…not at least for anyone under the age of 40. It’s the Boomers who seem to be most concerned about Big Brother.

Meantime, I think that employees are less & less part of the mix. Many Millennial shoppers would actually prefer NOT to have face to face interaction with an employee. The question then becomes, what role (if any) will they have in the future?

Ed Rosenbaum
Guest
10 years 9 months ago
Mobil devices will be playing a more positive role with in-store shopping in the ensuing years. The problem will not be the consumer role; but the role in-store personnel has in being prepared to work with the prepared consumer. To date, retailers have not invested in the needed training to prepare their staff to effectively interact with the consumer. Just the other day I learned of an app for the Blackberry that makes emailing easier. The app is called dragonspeak. I was shown how it works; and saw two other people load and test it on their Blackberry and iPhone instantly. Mine, being an older unit, did not have the app. So I went to the store and was told by the clerk the app was not available on any of the units they sell. He even searched for it and could not find it. Yet it exists and is a tool I can use. I was prepared to upgrade at that moment, but alas, nothing to upgrade to. My point is, this tool exists… Read more »
Mark Johnson
Guest
Mark Johnson
10 years 9 months ago

Consumers are overwhelmed at the moment and it is only getting worse. Communication needs to be spot on and targeted more than ever in the past.

Peter Oxley
Guest
Peter Oxley
10 years 9 months ago

Recently while shopping in a crowded store known for its lack of customer service, I witnessed a very simple and pragmatic use of mobile impacting the shopping experience. While standing in line to get assistance from a store worker, I watched a shopper Google the store’s phone number and automatically dial via voice search. Although she was the 6th person back in line, the store clerk parked the “in person” customer he was helping and answered the phone. She quickly asked her question and then commenced shopping again.

I believe that retailers need to start now to think simply and pragmatically about how mobile is already changing their shopping experience. Mobile is a game-changing technology that is already here and savvy shoppers are jumping the queue.

Jonathan Marek
Guest
10 years 9 months ago

I would think that mobile will put an end to kiosks, but that’s just the beginning.

First, I’d watch Best Buy for a glimpse of the future. Their management team seems to be all over this issue, and they have the perfect store to lead in the use of mobile technology (to do things other than price compare).

Second, I hope we’ll see some innovators in other, less obvious spaces. I’m imagining a high-end grocery store where you can scan a bar code and get everything from pricing to sourcing info to recipes. At a home improvement retailer, imagine links to competitive product comparisons (which product is easiest to work with, what challenges did you have, etc.). At a casual dining restaurant, how can I customize my dish to make it low fat or low carb?

Third, in the next 5 years, someone will invent an in-store mobile killer app that hasn’t been mentioned on this list. I don’t know what it is, but when I figure it out, I’m investing!

Mike Romano
Guest
Mike Romano
10 years 9 months ago

I see it happen too often in retail and grocery (and I’m sure it happens in every industry). For various reasons–sometimes legitimate sometimes not–IT departments can grind front-line innovations, revenue opportunities, customer value, and customer convenience to a halt. Oftentimes, the CIO seems to be managing the pace and direction of the organization–not the chief merchants, COO or president. The proliferation of mobile in these verticals is 2 years behind where it could be–not always due to a lack of marketing vision, but a firewall of IT and front office legal barriers.

Ben Sprecher
Guest
Ben Sprecher
10 years 9 months ago
I’m going to agree with Joel Rubinson here–in the long run, the potential applications and impact of mobile technology on the retail shopping experience cannot be over-estimated (or even predicted). Today’s product research, cross-selling, price comparison, customer reviews, in-aisle check-out, and customer service applications are really just transpositions of web-based services onto the mobile platform. And retail itself looks about the same as it has since any of us can remember: products on shelves in aisles, in stores surrounded by parking lots, with registers and clerks thrown in for good measure. In essence, retail is a passive, static offering in which the shopper is the primary actor, and mobile devices generally just help break through the information vacuum that used to surround the shopper in the store. Mobile technology has the potential to fundamentally change that model by plugging into different parts of the shopper’s life. To give one example, imagine a mobile shopping list which can be edited by either the husband or the wife, and which alerts the grocery store when one of… Read more »
Alan Stern
Guest
Alan Stern
10 years 9 months ago
I’ve been in the mobile industry since the mid-1990s and have participated in and experienced vast technology and functionality growth. From my perspective, m-shopping is just a piece of the mobile “pie.” However, since it facilitates new revenues, it has received the lion’s share of the interest. One of the major benefits of mobile marketing today is that it compliments traditional marketing programs, is highly cost effective, and allows brands to engage consumers “in-the-moment” within their lifestyle, and track programs results in real time. It’s not just a mobile commerce site or downloadable application. It allows consumers to pre-register (opt-in) to receive highly targeted brand/product/service promotions and stimulates retail traffic, transactions and real-time consumer interaction. It already is today and will be the for some time, the new form of dynamic CRM. The more sophisticated solutions today, engage consumers by tracking their buying and brand preferences, purchase histories and other econo and demo-graphics and programmatically integrating this data with product inventories, sales goals, service timelines, etc, and automatically engaging consumers or customers based on pre-set… Read more »
Herb Sorensen
Guest
10 years 9 months ago

The future of retail is self-service, and mobile (a personal shopping assistant) will be at the heart of “serving yourself.” The programs and data that drive that “personal assistant,” Smartphone, will dominate the practice of retailing for years to come.

Right now, Amazon seems best positioned to drive that data-software solution, but it is way to early for a clear winner to emerge. It’s not clear what significant players even understand the stakes, but there have to be at least a few.

Mark Price
Guest
Mark Price
10 years 8 months ago

For years, retailers have experimented with kiosks as a way to deliver personalized offers to consumers, and for years they have failed.

Mobile marketing offers the potential to succeed where kiosks have failed.

The approach will be to deliver personalized offers to consumers when they want them, before and during the store visit, based on their past behavior as well as expressed and implicit needs. In this way, the retailer can show consumers that they (1) know who the consumer is, (2) value the relationship with that consumer and (3) understand what that consumer values. Fulfilling the promise of the local store, mobile permits retailers to hold inventory, custom order products based on customer needs and communicate on a 1:1 basis, when and where the consumer would like it.

Mobile offers the platform for 1:1 marketing. The question is whether retailers will see their stores as silos, or be willing to commit to a multi-channel world, the one consumers already live in.

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