5 Ways to Improve the Experience of Mobile In-Store Customers

Survey: Nearly Half of Consumers Think They're More Informed Than In-Store Associates

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Retailers who operate physical stores provide at least four different functions to the buying public. These include:

  1. pre-selecting the goods and services, they offer customers (often seasonally),
  2. providing a physical space for people to shop,
  3. giving information and sales advice to customers, and
  4. stocking shelves with goods for people to buy.

Often, financing and/or delivery are available as additional services. Retailers have been doing this for over 200 years since the first department stores appeared in large cities. They should already be good at this.

The in-store experience of many customers is less than satisfactory.

A 2013 study, described in Retail Touchpoints, found that nearly 50 percent of consumers believe they are more informed than store associates for product knowledge.

This is especially true for the younger generations.

The study authors stated,

“Overall, 46% of Gen Y shoppers (ages 18 to 34) and 38% of Gen X shoppers (ages 35 to 49) reported feeling more in tune with inventory data accessed via mobile devices than through conversations with in-store associates while shopping during the 2012 holiday season.”

A study by Red Ant documented top tactics store associates used to deflect customer attention:

  • Directing customers to a colleague (73%);
  • Lying about a product they weren’t knowledgeable about (63%); and
  • Leaving a customer unattended on the store floor (48%).

When customers want to speak to a store associate, it is usual to find more information about a product, to make a buying decision.

They don’t want a heavy-handed sales pitch, or someone hovers around while they look at merchandise.

But, they also don’t want to feel ignored when they need information.

Because of the disconnect between many sales associates in a store, and the needs of customers, it is not surprising to find more and more shoppers turning to their mobile phones to get the information they desire.

The Red Ant study showed that about 40 percent of consumers shop online to avoid uninformed sales staff.

Online retailers have taken advantage of this situation, and many offers “deals” to potential customers at the same time the customer is looking for more information on their mobile device.

So, how can physical stores turn this around?

The answer is improving the shopping experience but especially for those shoppers carrying mobile devices.

Here are five ways the stores could improve the mobile customer experience:

1. Install sufficient Wi-Fi bandwidth for mobile shoppers.

Heavy mobile users will appreciate free Wi-Fi while in your store, to avoid racking up costs on their telecom’s data plan. Make it easy for shoppers to check their email while they are checking out your store.

2. Use near field communication (NFC) or QR codes…

…to give detailed information on specific products or to interact with “smart posters.” Increasingly, smartphones are equipped to read NFC tags and give back detailed information or send the user to a specific website or video.

3. Develop a mobile app for the store’s brand and make it known to in-store shoppers.

Many major retail chains have mobile apps for customers that give useful information and help as needed. This form of brand advocacy is on the rise.

4. Work with third-party suppliers to aggregate their mobile offerings…

…and make them available through a single portal. Many individual product suppliers are developing their own apps, but it is inconvenient for a customer to find each one as they view products in a store. Stores that develop portals that allow easy access to information about each product they stock will be winners.

5. Match in-store prices with major online retailers.

While online retailers seem to have an advantage in terms of costs, in fact, it may be negligible.

For example, many online retailers add shipping costs to a purchase, which may make it as expensive or even more expensive than buying the product in a store.

Free shipping often is deceptive, taking 2-3 weeks to arrive, while premium shipping may take a day or two at a substantial cost to the customer. Customers want the item they are buying as soon as possible, a real advantage for customers picking up an item in a store.

Many major brick-and-mortar retailers are in decline because of the onslaught of online shopping.

It’s time they fought back using mobile devices and a much better shopping experience.

If you are a retailer is not sure of how to implement the above ideas, please call us at Float for help.

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Gary Woodill is a senior analyst with Float, as well as CEO of i5 Research. Gary conducts research and market analyses, as well as assessments and forecasting for emerging technologies. Gary is the co-editor of "Mastering Mobile Learning," author of “The Mobile Learning Edge,” and the co-author of “Training and Collaboration with Virtual Worlds.” He also presents at conferences and is the author of numerous articles and research reports on emerging learning technologies. Gary holds a doctor of education degree from the University of Toronto.

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On July 29, 2014
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