Will giving associates mobile devices enhance the shopping experience?

May 02, 2017

Mobile devices continue to change the way consumers find information and shop retail stores and websites. The corresponding effect, according to a new BRP report, is that mobile devices are in the process of changing retail operations and the shopping experience that merchants provide for their customers.

“Putting mobile devices in the hands of store associates is now a necessity to keep up with the customer who has a plethora of information available at her fingertips,” said Perry Kramer, vice president, BRP, in a statement. “Associate mobile devices enhance the shopping experience by accessing real-time inventory and customer data and offering the ability to service customers and process transactions anywhere in the store.”

According to the report, there are five key areas where mobile devices are going to have the greatest effect on retail operations.

Customer identification: Seventy percent of retailers have identified personalized experiences as among their top priorities for 2017, with customer identification as the starting point for delivering on the goal.

Customer engagement: Thirty-one percent plan to introduce mobile tools this year to interact more effectively with customers.

Associate training and task management: Eighty-nine percent of retailers plan to provide associates with mobile solutions within three years.

Mobile POS: Eighty-four percent will utilize mobile POS in stores by 2020.

Mobile payment: Retailers have moved from being cautious to accepting mobile payments.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you agree that putting mobile devices in the hands of associates has become a necessity for retail businesses? In what areas do you see mobile devices having the greatest impact on retail operations?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"Retailers need a chance to be on par with shoppers and tech is the path to get there for now."
"An associate who is engaging with a customer without a mobile device is flying blind."
"If the associates use the devices as a crutch, it will be a failure. If they use the devices to embrace customer engagement, it will be a big winner."

Join the Discussion!

33 Comments on "Will giving associates mobile devices enhance the shopping experience?"

Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Charles Dimov

Not discussed is the ability for in-store associates equipped with mobile devices to save the sale! This is where retailers need solid order management systems that provide full inventory visibility by store, and the ability to place online orders to allow a product to ship to store. When a stock-out happens, the associate helps the customer buy the merchandise and has it brought to the location from another store.

All told, YES mobile is definitely important for associates. It is all part of doing omnichannel retail well!

Mark Ryski

Yes, mobile devices are fast becoming the critical tool for store associates. Arming store associates with access to the same information as customers (and more) just makes sense in so many ways. The benefits are undeniable, despite some retail executives’ concerns about misuse and the distraction mobile devices can cause. Beyond the many client-facing applications for mobile, we have begun to deliver store traffic and conversion insights to store personnel via mobile and we have seen an impact in usage levels and results by managers who have access to mobile insights compared to managers who don’t have access to the same information.

Ben Zifkin
4 years 2 months ago

It will, but not on its own. Giving associates mobile devices is just one tactic in an overall digital strategy. Better access to product information, more personalized experience, better information on your customers and more seamless transactions are what retailers should be focused on. When they move in this direction, then mobile/digital is simply the mechanism to do that whether it is on the shelf, in the hands of employees or in the hands of customers.

Bob Phibbs

Giving associates an iPad to ring people up is hardly a way-forward strategy. What do they do with it besides look up inventory which may or may not be right? Most POS systems do as much.

What do they do while someone runs to the back to get the stock? Yes there are aspects that can help but many will add a barrier between customer and purchase as much as “please hold while I check that” did when retailers were looking for items a few years ago.

If you’re going to give them shiny objects, don’t stop at giving them sales training or you’ve just got more warehouse workers. And the more checking they do on a laptop, the more their pitiful customer service skills will atrophy — mark my words.

Jasmine Glasheen

Agreed. And that’s provided that the items can be found at all. Without adequate training and (here’s the big one) adequate employee retention, technology cannot enhance the shopper’s experience. My advice to big box store owners? Invest in your people.

Frank Riso

It is a definite yes for specialty retail stores. The ability for associates to have all the information about products, inventory, pricing and to complete the sale with MPOS is going to be a must in order to compete with online retail and all the information online to the consumer. In today’s market, mobile devices play an important role in all applications for inventory management, customer service and management applications, however the greatest focus needs to be on customer service. Mobile gives the store associates the ability to engage the customer and not run away from them. They would have any and all the information needed to respond to the customer. And if the product is not in the store or in a nearby store, they can still make the sale online. It is the right thing to do for in-store associates within the specialty retail space.

Lyle Bunn (Ph.D. Hon)

Tablets that enable screen viewing with the customer are even better. This moves the conversation shoulder-to-shoulder as the associate and customer see information and design the future together. It is off-putting when information is regarded as secret to the associate only. Some brands such as Adidas are making good use of “flinging” mobile or tablet content onto a video wall which goes further in engaging other shoppers in the product discussion. Screen media is best when shared.

Dave Wendland

Yes. Empowering associates with knowledge at their fingertips to better engage shoppers is essential. And offering mobile in-aisle POS will become ubiquitous.

It seems to me that in-store technology, including mobile devices for associates, needs to be deployed as quickly as possible to improve the shopping experience, deliver more efficiency, encourage basket-building in the aisle, provide access to relevant information and compete more effectively with online options.

Al McClain

Yes. Many valuable customers who shop, especially in higher-end stores still enjoy the experience of shopping, and want a full service experience, where the associate can show them anything in the store, and beyond. To me, there is much more potential for retailers in equipping associates with tablets than throwing self-service kiosks on the retail floor and hoping customers won’t notice or care that there are fewer staff available.

Sky Rota
4 years 2 months ago
How is it customer engagement if they are staring down at their mobile device? Macy’s shoe department uses a mobile device and they click to see if they have your size available but it still takes forever to get the box and then they just dump off to you and never return if you need another size. Oh, and they never lift their heads up to greet you. They are just staring at the screen the entire time. Sadly I think that is the way most associates will be with a device in hand. We need friendliness and more care and attention than ever to get us wanting to come into a store. We don’t want to deal with some cold distracted employee looking at some device to tell us what they think we like. Show us your stock by walking us around a bit, interact with us, NOT your screen. If we wanted to shop online on our mobile we would have stayed home! Learn your inventory if it’s your job. I like the… Read more »
Ian Percy

Exactly Sky! Could not be said better.

Tom Erskine
4 years 2 months ago

Given retail associate demographics, it is safe to say that 100 percent of retail associates already rely on mobile devices to make their non-work lives more interesting and efficient, so why should work be any different?

Every aspect of an associate’s day — interacting with customers and building personalized offers, processing payments, receiving tailored training and merchandising instructions on new offers/products, interacting with colleagues in other locations and performing store maintenance — can be greatly improved through the adoption of mobile devices.

Anne Howe

Yes, it’s critical for retailers to deploy technology to store associates. There’s just no way most retailers can keep up with the training associates would need to keep up with the consumers who are armed and ready with 24/7/365 data streams. Retailers need a chance to be on par with shoppers and tech is the path to get there for now.

Gene Detroyer

If the associates use the devices as a crutch, it will be a failure. If they use the devices to embrace customer engagement, it will be a big winner. Even if the associate knows a quick answer for the customer, imagine if they use the device to draw the customer into a dialogue and help explore similar items or associated items they might be interested in.

When reading a book to a child, the child moves closer, their head focuses on the book and they become engaged as one with you. The mobile device could do the very same thing for a retail associate in capturing the customer.

Shawn Harris

An associate who is engaging with a customer without a mobile device is flying blind. Customers are coming into the store with an intention based on research and if they need to engage with an associate, it’s for a deal-closing inquiry like: “Where is it in-store?” or “What does it cost?” or “Can I get it at another store?” If an associate is unable to answer those sorts of questions, that research kicks in and the customer moves on to the retailer’s competitor. Mobility gives associates access to line-of-business applications, scanning, voice communications, payment and more — empowering them in the moment.

Ian Percy
My first reaction to the picture of sales staff walking around with a tablet in their hand is that this is akin to trying to talk to a teenager while they’re texting. My second one is that these devices are like not needing to know how to add and subtract because you have a calculator. Do your sales people know their business or do they not? Even generally. Of course they can’t know everything about a zillion SKUs but the customer needs to know that the rep they’re talking to knows his or her business. In the UK taxi drivers almost go to graduate school in order to know every street in their city. Here you wait while the driver enters the address into the GPS. Which gives you more confidence? Has your GPS ever taken you out into the wilderness to die deserted and alone? Mine sure has. As vital as accurate information is, it’s still about customer connection! As long as we have a semblance of being human left, that connection will not… Read more »
Adrian Weidmann

Simply putting a mobile device in the hands of associates is not the answer. Just like any other display-based technology, it is imperative to create a meaningful and sustainable content strategy. Every shopper already has a mobile device. The other half of the equation is the sales associate holding the mobile device. Do they know how to interact with the shopper? Are they empowered to do the right thing? Are they qualified? What’s in it for them? Does the shopper in a specific category want to take the time to talk to them? In short, is the workflow designed to help sell more stuff? And is a mobile device needed to deliver on the promise? I believe there are other technologies and processes that are far more valuable in furthering the value of the in-store experience than putting a mobile device in the hands of sales associates.

Harley Feldman
Mobile devices in the hands of a retailer’s associates will address two critical areas: knowing more information about the customer and providing information to help the store run better and satisfy the customer. On the consumer side, the more the associate knows about the consumer the more individualized the shopping experience will be. Having said that, I believe the store operations data provided to an associate will deliver more value to the customer and retailer. Finding the item in a large store for the customer saves them time and effort to find things. Showing the customer the range of items that might meet their needs is a way to help in the selection process. Having how-to videos or how-does-the-item-look videos helps the customer select the item with more confidence. For retailer operations, knowing where the associate is in the store or being able to connect with the most knowledgeable associate in real-time would be helpful applications. In the same way consumers use their mobile devices to shop and purchase items, store associates will use these… Read more »
Jon Polin

Mobile devices in the hands of associates will be great IF (big if) those devices are enabled with excellent tools to help customers better navigate the shopping experience. Those tools increasingly exist, so retailers just need to use them.

Brandon Rael
Empowering store associates with the latest technology like iPads/mobile devices is critical and enables an omnichannel experience. However in the age of the digital revolution, the consumer in many scenarios is one or two steps ahead of the store associate. By the time the consumer either shops in the store or leverages the store as a “showroom” to try on the products and ultimately buy online from home, they have already done the due diligence of understanding the product, reading reviews, comparing prices and are armed with questions. Outside of empowering store associates with mobile devices for research, insights and to provide a friction-less mobile checkout option, the associates have to absolutely become experts and masters at their domain. The store associates without the proper training, specialized skills and knowledge will continue to be laggards and will be unable to add any value to the shopping experience. Brands and retailers have to concentrate on enhancing the employee experience via ongoing training, defined career paths, technological enhancements and incentive-based compensation for helping to close and convert… Read more »
Ricardo Belmar
Ricardo Belmar
Retail Transformation Thought Leader, Advisor, & Strategist
4 years 2 months ago
Yes! No doubt mobile devices are key to the future of many retailers. There is some variation to this based on segment and format as not all merchandise segments and store formats lend themselves to associates running around with mobile devices but, fundamentally, this will be the future. Shoppers see the value of the associate very differently than they used to and retailers need to act to restore this value. Mobile devices are one part of that solution — associate training and development is another. One without the other will not produce success! I also believe that most of the key areas listed can be classified as enhancing the customer experience. Areas such as personalization, customer identification, mobile POS, etc. all fall under this category. I would add to that order management capability. An associate should be equipped to provide everything the customer needs without walking away other than to obtain a piece of merchandise. There are lots of variations on capabilities here (including interacting with digital signage, the customer’s mobile app, etc.) but fundamentally… Read more »
Art Suriano
I can see the opportunity and the success of mobile devices for store associates but only if used correctly. I fear that too many retailers will not look at the devices as a tool but rather as the solution, and that will be the mistake. Imagine, the customer in a store who has a question. During the engagement process, the store associate can show the customer something on a tablet that answers their question and the customer, now pleased, is ready to make the purchase. But for that to happen, the store associate needs the training to learn how to get to that step, when to use the tablet, when not to, etc. I can see retailers just thinking that because the store associate will have a tablet, that the tablet will now handle all the selling needs. They will assume the associate will use the tablet properly such as for demoing the product and sharing product information. However, I can see store associates having the customer read the product information, and it will only… Read more »
Ray Hewins

We know the shopper journey has changed and customers are walking into a retail location more informed than the associate. An educated, confident and engaged frontline associate is a valuable component of the shopper journey and ensures a customer-centric experience. A defined mobile strategy can pay dividends for any multi-channel retailer because mobile tablets are the most versatile tool for the frontline — from clienteling to POS and learning/development training. It’s important to note that bandwidth issues should be accounted for out in the field. The use of video is a core element for today’s training needs and it’s how you move your organization forward by communicating directly to the field. Due diligence is required for any native app deployment.

Ralph Jacobson

There is no question that this capability helps greatly, as we can think of a couple very prominent examples of where this is happening today … and has been happening for several years now. It’s time for all retailers to leverage technologies in ways they couldn’t only a few years ago. This will be huge … it kinda already is.