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GUEST COMMENT Why your in-store digital strategy is only as powerful as your data

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In a somewhat unexpected move, Apple earlier this year unleashed a team of tiny robots with iBeacon sensors to collect data for an indoor mapping project that will help users navigate stores, commercial buildings and event spaces. As shoppers increasingly expect digital experiences in stores, it’s the latest in a line of steps by retailers embracing digital tools to connect with shoppers in the physical environment.

Apple’s move into the indoor mapping space further highlights the growing adoption of digital technologies in brick-and-mortar retail. According to Forrester, 68% of customers use mobile devices while in stores to assist with the purchasing process. While Apple is clearly starting to take more of an active interest in the physical store, it’s unclear whether maps alone will help retailers bridge the gap between the physical and digital. To offer shoppers truly valuable in-store maps, retailers need to digitally index their physical stores so they know where everything in each store is located, including products and services, all of the time. This provides the critical context needed for accurate product location and indoor navigation. This index has to be updated constantly as store sets and products are in constant motion. The store today will not look like the same store tomorrow.

The rise of in-store digital analytics

Today, most retailers do not know what’s happening inside their stores and are only scraping the surface of digital in-store analytics. Having an effective in-store mobile strategy is no longer optional for retailers who want to remain profitable. According to Deloitte, mobile influenced 28% of all in-store sales in 2014 – up from 19% the year before. In order to compete, more and more retailers are now trying to capture these mobile-influenced sales and meet the growing demand for a more ecommerce-like experience in stores from consumers.

In order to effectively blend the physical and digital, retailers must first invest in the underlying infrastructure. By digitally indexing their stores, retailers can combine the physical location of products with enterprise sales data and shopper behavior. Digitizing the store in this way lays the foundation for technologies such as accurate product location, beacons, retail store analytics and store fulfillment programs to function.

For example, Apple’s maps may help customers find their way around the general departments of a store, but if the maps don’t offer specific product locations or other personalized features they won’t be useful enough for shoppers. A store map connected to a digital index can show shoppers exact inventory and product locations—down to the aisle and shelf—and offers navigation that directs customers along the most efficient path through the store based on their shopping lists.

Why in-store product location is the first step

Knowing precise product location also allows retailers to send personalized deals, product suggestions, coupons and other valuable messages based on shopper preferences and location. The more personalized offers are, the more likely shoppers are to redeem them. If a shopper is standing in the pet products aisle and receives a coupon for their favorite brand of dog food, they’re more likely to engage with the offer and take action. In this way, digitally indexing the store can drive not only customer purchases, but also satisfaction and loyalty.

Point Inside’s StoreMode platform provides this core digital index as well as related solutions that are already in use chainwide at major retailers including Target, Lowe’s Home Improvement and Meijer Stores. This digital layer has enabled these leading retailers to incorporate store-specific search, product location maps, interactive maps, and other interactive features into their branded apps. And Target is already seeing the ROI: Shoppers using mobile phones to engage with Target make four times as many visits to Target stores per year.

Each year mobile’s influence on in-store behavior and purchases continues to increase, and the trend shows no sign of slowing down. According to Deloitte, digital influenced 49% of all in-store purchases in 2014, and will grow to 64% this year. That’s 1.7 trillion in 2014 alone. Retailers that embrace this tectonic shift will be able to compete; those who do not will risk losing business to competitors who are actively engaging customers via mobile at key impact points in the path to purchase.

Mike McMurray is SVP of marketing and business operations at Point Inside

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