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EDITORIAL IKEA, Pets At Home and track and trace: how mobile retail is key

Last week, telecom industry watchdog Ofcom reported that 81% of those online in the UK were doing so via mobile. This hasn’t been lost on retailers over lockdown, as many have seen their own sales move online and many of these to mobile.

However, there aren’t that many retailers who are truly invested in it. Pets At Home has long been a notably exception, being one of the first mainstream, top tier retailers to attempt to be truly mobile-first.

Now it is looking to continue further down this path, replatforming to make mobile the glue that holds together the on and off-line parts of its business, as well as linking that, transactional, part with customer experience. Very much mobile-first 2.0.

The thrust into mobile-based CX is led by giving staff mPOS that should in theory give them access to everything any customer – or indeed fellow worker – should need. The idea is that the retail will be able to service customers out on the shop floor in a rich and engaging way.

While many shoppers may still be baulking at the idea of heading into a store – even to stock up on giant rawhide bones for their four-legged friend – the retailer is looking to also use the same platform technology to aid remote shoppers, as well as being able to pull in online ordering data to give a better view of the customer at any point.

In these uncertain times it is a brave move by Pets At Home, but surely the right one: the future is online, after all, and it is looking at how to make stores and the web work in harmony.

Certainly something that John Lewis may want to consider as it faces the prospect of store closures and a radically – and rapid – rethink of its retail strategy that surely has to be one much more dominated by mobile, to avoid going the way of TM Lewin.

But Pets At Home is not alone. IKEA is also looking to not only embrace the chaos or digital, but it too is looking to move it on – possibly even to mobile-first 3.0 (my, thinks change fast in mobile).

It is working with design studios around the world to look at how, using AR and VR on mobile, it can help consumers reimagine their living spaces – or homes, as us oldies might still think of them – and provide interesting new mobile-based tools to help them around the home.

One inspired example is to use an elephant made of balloons to help assess and measure spaces. Another overlays colours and graphics on the room when viewed on a mobile while music is playing. Others includes building improbably stacks of your own furniture virtually and creating chairs using movements of the hands.

It is all rather like a long night in, when you have drunk the place dry – even the grappa – and the room starts to do crazy things, but in there are nuggets of what mobile’s potential in homewares could be. And with everyone stuck at home more than they ever thought possible, homewares are booming.

The shift to app among retailers – and the hospitality sector – could have another more practical advantage, too. One tech insider has posited the idea that apps that help guide people round stores, those that offer contactless payments and other apps under development to help shoppers with socially distanced shopping could also form the bedrock of a much more workable track and trace system.

With the UK government’s attempts to get one built struggling, he may be on to something. Just another way that retail is changing.

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