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GUEST OPINION Mobile: hero or villain for retailers? 1

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Gary Bicker, UK country manager, affilinet ponders whether increasingly savvy consumer use of mobile is a boon for retailers or a more sinister erosion of their core businesses and profits

Mobile has certainly been grabbing all the headlines recently. Whether it’s to dazzle us with how many people are now starting their purchasing journey by turning to their smartphone or new mobile wallet offerings from the likes of Barclays and O2; mCommerce has certainly become something of a retail darling.

But in amongst all the hype, are UK retailers really prepared for how mobile is diversifying the retail experience? Consumers are using their smartphones not just to engage with retailers and make purchases, but also to become more savvy. The saying goes that knowledge is power, and thanks to the smartphone consumers often know more about the best deals on products than retailers themselves.

In the US big high street stores have looked to take tackle this trend by accepting that people will come in store to experience products before whipping out their mobile to find the best deal available on or offline, and then marching over to the store manager ready to negotiate in order to get themselves a bargain. In response to this more and more US retailers are providing employees with tablet PC’s and the authority to negotiate with customers – after all, they’d rather close then deal than lose it. And to do that, they must be prepared, equipping staff with the right information at the right time.

Whilst our US cousins are seemingly arming themselves to be more nimble in the face of how mobile and online is merging to create a different retail experience, UK stores still have some way to go. Technology is being used to help check product stock levels, rather than respond to the seismic shift in consumer buying behaviour. That means that when it comes to the high street, they’re rapidly losing ground. And the irony is that in many instances, this is only likely to be driving consumers to become more reliant on ecommerce and mcommerce platforms as they don’t perceive they are getting any added value from shopping ‘on the street.’

For most people, the high street still has an important role to play in their purchasing decision especially for high value items. They expect to be able to go in-store and for staff to be informed about competitors prices, warranties etc. and for staff to be able to react on that basis in order to provide them with the best deal then and there. Without this capability, retailers are gifting the competition a sale.

So how can UK retailers respond and stem the tide? The first step is to embrace technology and how it is evolving the retail experience and contribute to making it all the more richer. Those brands that engage more via mobile and can provide more information at all points of the purchasing journey will ultimately fare better than those that don’t. Debenhams is a brand that is doing mobile well. The retailer has a mobile app, which can be used to scan barcodes on products in store in order to gain product reviews, price comparison information and see whether the product is in stock. Making this information more accessible, provides a better experience and helps to inform customers as well as encourage them to make the purchase– after all, the research has been done for them.

More and more retailers are also looking at in-store wireless as often 3G is so temperamental. This enables customers to unlock location-based offers via social sites, for retailers to push their own offers at consumers and provide a much more seamless retail experience. Another trend that retailers are looking at is the use of QR scanner technology allowing consumers to take a mobile voucher to the till that cashiers can scan, rather than having to print off pieces of paper. The beauty of this approach is that it enables retailers to drive more footfall into stores and then target them on a more spontaneous basis via methods like geo targeting.

Mobile isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, in fact technology means that it will only evolve and impact retailers further. So rather than sitting on the sidelines, retailers have to get involved and start driving change, rather than reacting to it.

Recent research we undertook showed at Internet World indicates that perhaps there is still some way to go. Two thirds of companies had yet to optimise their website for mobile browsing. The good news is though, that 71% of those that have taken this step have tagged it so that they can analyse mobile traffic and generate transparency into what channels are driving customers to their site.

For mobile to become the hero of the piece, retailers have got to make mobile work for them and this means integrating it with other channels helping to deliver innovative services that reach people at all stages of their purchasing journey across multiple channels.

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