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GUEST COMMENT How retailers are using mobile to enhance the in-store shopping experience 

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Sue Azari is ecommerce lead, EMEA & LATAM at AppsFlyer

For many years now we’ve been hearing about the death of the high street, and the pandemic was meant to be the proverbial nail in the coffin, with more than 17,000 shops closing down in 2021 alone. Despite in-store shopping seeing a brief comeback when lockdowns ended, fast forward one year and retailers are struggling to entice shoppers back in-store, amidst a backdrop of transport strikes, heatwaves and the ongoing pressure of cost of living.

In this challenging climate, one thing’s for certain: in order to survive and thrive, high street brands need to rethink their in-store shopping experience to continue to entice the increasingly tech-savvy customer back in-store.

The rise of mobile 

Mobile apps have been on the rise within the ecommerce industry for some time now, and the pandemic was a significant driving factor. Indeed, during the first wave of the pandemic, between February and May 2020, shopping app installs grew more than 150% in the UK, and even though restrictions have now been lifted, there’s no sense of things slowing down. In the first three months of this year, ecommerce app installs in the UK increased 34% on iOS and 11% on Android.

Ecommerce brands such as Asos, etsy and Depop have led the way, and we’re now seeing more traditional retailers follow suit, recognising the power of mobile as another channel for delivering exceptional experiences, keeping existing customers loyal and engaging with new audiences.

What’s interesting however, is that these two channels – mobile and brick and mortar – aren’t operating in silos. Which makes sense, given that the majority of shoppers have used a retailer’s app while in one of its physical locations. As a result, we’re now seeing brands using mobile as a way of enhancing the in-store shopping experience, offering numerous benefits for customers and brands alike.

Try before you buy

Being able to see, feel and try on items has always been an advantage for physical stores compared to their digital counterparts, but that doesn’t mean it’s always been a perfect process. Queues to get into the changing rooms are a typical sight at busy times, and in some cases, it’s simply not practical to try before you purchase. 

That’s why beauty brand L’Oréal’s augmented reality-based app allows you to “try on” hair dye without having to leave the store by superimposing the desired colour onto a real-time image on your mobile phone. Customers can try on make-up in the same way, ensuring they leave the store with the perfect product. 

It’s not just hair and make-up either. Ikea has an app that lets customers see what different furniture items will look like in their home, before they make the purchase. Not only is this great from a user experience perspective, but it also helps reduce the likelihood of returns, which can be costly for many brands.

Finally, regardless of whether they’re able to try the product or not, apps can also help customers make more informed decisions, by allowing them to quickly check reviews and ratings for products they’re interested in. This also gives brands a better understanding into their customer’s interests, so they can show them similar products on their app that they can purchase there and then in store. 

In-store navigation 

There’s nothing more frustrating than going to a store with a particular item in mind and not being able to find it easily, either because it’s out of stock, or because the store’s simply too big. 

Many brands including H&M and Zara allow customers to browse stock availability of specific stores through their app. Not only does this improve the experience for the customer, but it also alleviates pressure on in-store sales staff to answer questions around stock or size availability. 

Marks & Spencer is also trialing an AR app called List & Go, which allows shoppers to upload a list of desired items and be guided to where each product is in their local M&S.

Boosting customer loyalty 

Increasingly, retailers are noticing that their app users are amongst their most loyal and highest spending customers, and as such generating installs and engagement is becoming a top priority. While this can include in-app advertising, influencer marketing, social media campaigns, and more, something as simple as a QR code that can easily be scanned in changing rooms and at tills is another great, cost-effective option to win over an audience that’s already familiar and engaged with the brand. 

In today’s age, it’s clear that traditional retailers can’t take a ‘one channel fits all’ approach. Consumers want to interact with a brand at their own convenience, whether that’s on their phones, computer, in-store, or more than one at the same time, and they expect each interaction to be seamless and consistent. As a result, the physical shopping experience is evolving, and the brands that are excelling are the ones that are successfully blurring the lines between offline and online in fresh and exciting ways. 

Sue Azari is ecommerce lead, EMEA & LATAM at AppsFlyer

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