Paul Skeldon, Editor, Mobile, Internet Retailing and self-confessed hater of shopping in store investigates how mobile can improve the in-store shopping experience.
Shopping in shops is a horrible experience. It’s crowded, the stock is at best patchy and should anyone really need to stand in a queue in the 21st Century? I hate it. And the reason I hate it is that I am so used to online shopping. Online, many of the best minds in retail have tweaked and reshaped the shopping experience and worked hard to make it easy. They have had great success with the checkout. Overall, it’s a great experience.
But step into a real shop and all that is spectacularly defenestrated. No one has rethought the way shops work for nearly half a century and, 14 years into what to me when I was 12 was ‘the future’ we are still basically expected to shop like its 1954.
It’s putting people off.
A UK Shopper Satisfaction Study by technology company Red Ant found that 43% of consumers believe in-store experiences are failing to keep up with the times, as online retail continues to become more intuitive and effective. A fifth of the 2,000 consumers surveyed turn to their own smartphone to answer questions rather than ask staff and 38% of them will leave a shop if they have waited fewer than three minutes for an assistant to return from a stock enquiry.
Clearly the service experience on many of the UK’s high streets is failing to meet consumer expectations
“Clearly the service experience on many of the UK’s high streets is failing to meet consumer expectations,” says Dan Mortimer, CEO of Red Ant. “Online commerce has evolved and improved significantly over the past five years, so it’s perhaps unsurprising that in-store retail is starting to feel a bit underwhelming in comparison. Progressive retailers should be looking at ways that they can take the best of ecommerce, integrate it into in-store environments, and use it effectively to improve the customer experience.”
Part of the problem is that consumers now have so much connected tech at their fingertips that their expectations are now sky-high when out and about. Smartphones and tablets are only the start. Smartwatches are here and soon we will see connected jewellery and clothing in mass use and this is going to make the demands of the shopper greater than ever. The pressure is really on for retailers.
The answer to all these problems is, of course, this mobile technology itself. The store needs to bring in the best of the online world and combine it with what is still good with offline.
However, that is easier said than done. In fact, it is sort of a mini-revolution that needs to be addressed before the major overhaul of instigating omnichannel can be undertaken.
There are essentially two distinct facets to the revamp of the store: leveraging the existing propensity for consumers to use their mobiles in and around the bricks and mortar shop; and looking at how to use mobile tech to arm the staff to make them more effective. Oh, and there is the small issue of the networking technology needed to glue all this together, and the beacons, and the wifi to network hand-off. I told you: it’s not simple.
So, what can be done to lure in the shoppers? Samsung believes it is all about creating theatre enabled by digital – certainly for attracting ‘future shoppers’ (or young people as we used to call them).
According to Samsung , 71% of 16 to 24 year olds find themselves in large retail environments at least once a fortnight, with two-thirds on the hunt for a specific item. The technologically confident, price-conscious future shopper frequently opts to make their final purchase online; and increasingly through their mobile phone.
The research found that shopping with a purchase in mind is largely a solitary activity for these young consumers, armed with a clear idea of what they want to buy and a certainty it is the right product for them. This comes as a result of extensive research before and during the shopping trip to ensure they’re getting the best deal. Indeed, 44% will be searching for a better price online through their mobile device while they are in-store.
More tellingly, Samsung also found that nearly half of those questioned said that they would actively choose to visit retailers who use technology to enhance the experience; citing both receiving discounts to their devices as they pass a retailer, and the opportunity to customise products they like while in-store, as equally exciting future developments. The research shows that combining a more compelling in-store experience with discounts, offers and convenience will make real world shopping stand out – for this age group at least.
TECHNOLOGY FOR STAFF
The other side of the coin in all this – and perhaps the one that really matters the most – is how to leverage technology to make shop staff better and more efficient. This is really what is needed to revolutionise the in-store experience and again it revolves around mobile.
“In a world where digital technology is seen as a growing threat to traditional shops, how do retailers combat the online world and improve the in-store experience? One route they are looking at is empowering staff with the latest real-time information about customers. And many see emerging omnichannel portal technology as the way to achieve this,” says Stephen Stanton-Downes, Chief Operating Officer, Mvine.
“There are great opportunities here and a huge range of future applications. The overarching concept is that when a customer walks into the store, the sales assistant knows who they are, what they have previously bought and what sorts of products to offer.”
The challenges are huge though. According to a study by Imperial College for Red Ant of 17 major UK retailers, there is at best a vague understanding of what technology is available and how to implement it.
There is also the issue that staff need to be heavily retrained, not only in the use of the technology, but in a total rethink of their role within retail. Let’s face it, the staff in the Apple Store are more than just glorified shelf-stackers – they are not only highly versed in the products, but also the services they offer are much deeper than ‘I’ll check if we have that in a medium’.
This can be problematic. The Imperial College/Red Ant study came across one leading women’s underwear retailer – an early adopter of employee-facing mobile technology – which reported staff initially using their tablets as a “shield” and highlighted the importance of an “in-depth on-boarding programme”.
The study did find however that retailers that have embraced in-store mobile technology show significant success, with a well-known consumer electronics brand stating: “It engages customers, enabling a much better demonstration of what a product is capable of doing and the functionality of a product… standing beside somebody and sharing something on an iPad, I think… the quality of contact is much higher”.
Then there is the issue of staff churn. Investing in training staff in the use of high tech IT equipment and a deep understanding of your products is a time-consuming and costly affair. Shop staff in most brands are pretty peripatetic. It is easy to spend all that time and money for them to leave after a few months and take that knowledge away.
There are also security issues, warns Mvine’s Downes. “The level of employee churn is traditionally high in the retail sector and temporary and part time workers are widely used. This presents security and provisioning issues,” he says. “Every time a new employee joins the company, dozens of apps will need to be installed, each one requiring a different set of log-on credentials.”
The test beds for this new approach to shopping are already taking shape. Samsung backed up the launch of its study with the roll out of a pop up shop in the Westfield Shopping Centre in West London, but other thought leaders in retail have gone further.
House of Fraser is trialling an “online shopping service and buy and collect point” in a Caffè Nero coffee shop in the centre of Cambridge. The ground floor will have the look and feel of a Caffè Nero with the addition of House of Fraser tablet devices on tables and touch screens at key points, enabling customers to shop online whilst relaxing with a coffee.
The first floor will have a House of Fraser branded ‘front of house’ which will have the look and feel of a ‘Buy & Collect’ department, with till points for customer collections, product showcase, Order in Store terminals and a fitting room.
Following the successful launch of the new beacon mannequins in Aberdeen, House of Fraser will install the interactive mannequins at its Cambridge Fitzroy Street location, making this the most innovative digital House of Fraser store yet. The first floor will be staffed by House of Fraser offering personal customer service which is a key feature of the overall concept. Fitting rooms will also be provided so customers can try on items before taking them home.
Retailers that have embraced in-store mobile technology show significant success
“With a growing café culture and more customers shopping ‘on the go’ with mobile devices, we believe we’re providing our customers with an innovative solution which meets the needs of today’s busy consumer,” says Andy Harding, Executive Director of Multi-Channel at House of Fraser. “This new concept will not only act as a hub for our online shoppers wishing to collect their orders but will also become a destination for new and existing customers who want to shop their favourite brands which may not be available in the area. Many customers will also enjoy the added benefit of having a personal shopper on hand for advice.”
Simon Thomas, Head of Business Development at Caffè Nero, adds: “Our customers have always come to Caffè Nero to enjoy their coffee in a relaxed and friendly environment, and are increasingly passing their time whilst with us using our wifi or on their mobiles. The opportunity to provide added value and convenience by enabling them to shop online, and collect their items in store appeals and the evolution of our existing partnership with House of Fraser is an exciting one.”
Is this the future of in-store retail? Well it is certainly one facet of it, but in reality the in-store experience requires a rethink not only in how to use technology, but in the very way people behave in shops. And this is perhaps more revolutionary than anyone yet fully appreciates.