Mobilising the troops
As of August 2014, 52% of traffic to retailer websites is coming not from PCs and desktop computers, but from smartphones and tablets. This is widely considered to be a tipping point in retail circles. But all it really means is that more people buy tablets these days than PCs – something we knew back in 2012. Paul Skeldon explains further.
What this tipping point fails to address is that the real mobile retail revolution is yet to happen. The real retail revolution is going to centre around how mobile is used in store and a large chunk of this is how retailers themselves can get more from mobile use in store.
How the consumer journey can be bolstered by mobile in store is well documented, but there is something of a paucity among technology companies and tech media when it comes to how staff can use mobile across their businesses.
You only need to look at Apple’s [irdx RAPL] real world stores and you can see that mobile can be used to transform how retail in the real world works. This is, for me, the real m-retailing revolution.
I am not alone. Huw Thomas, Managing Director of retail IT services provider PMC, agrees. “The value of omnichannel is predicated on placing the customer at the centre of everything. For in-store solutions legacy PoS systems just do not facilitate that objective, so new devices, such as tablets, are absolutely the way to go. The challenge though of managing the integration and driving of store based peripherals and enabling secure payments is one that needs to be addressed in order to ensure that your mobile solution is properly integrated and scalable.”
And therein lies the problem. The theory of using mobile devices and the technology of the web to make the store – and its staff – work better is way easier to grasp than the practice.
“The problem is that implementing a mobile strategy is not very easy,” says Thomas. “There are many products coming to market that address some of these challenges but retailers are trying to reduce complexity in their store environments not add to it. Retailers are keen to take their existing solutions mobile rather than add new ones.”
According to Thomas, the majority of retailers would like to bring their website into the store to allow them to extend their range, particularly those retailers that have a wide variance in store size. Driving peripherals such as printers and scanners from a retailer’s website is not easy. Taking secure payments via Chip & Pin is another significant challenge to be overcome. Many retailers are breaching acquiring rules by allowing ‘customer not present’ payments within the store environment. “Not something I would recommend,” he says.
However, just because trying to do this is hard doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try. Many retailers aside from Apple have seen that arming staff with tablets, the means to take payments and access to information – not least how to sell something that isn’t in stock – is well worth the candle.
Burberry [irdx RBUR] and Monsoon Accessorize [irdx RMNS] have both piloted arming sales assistants with iPads loaded with POS capabilities from Micros Retail Assistant and have reported improved sales. Electronics maker Casio has also piloted using tablets to not only ‘bring the website into the store’ at its flagship Covent Garden branch, but has used what is essentially stock control software and turned it into a mobile POS, ordering and receipt printing service.
The Casio example uses PMC’s Store Enabler technology, which is an application that allows retailers to transform their existing website into a mobile POS, with full capabilities to scan products, print receipts and take secure payments.
Andrew Reason, General Sales Manager, for Casio sees using mobile to empower staff as crucial to all retailers. “Casio experiences the same challenges as many other retailers; our stores can only hold a limited subset of our entire range. Store Enabler allows us to complete the consultative sales process successfully at the point of decision even if the chosen item isn’t at the store with a customer present card transaction. This gives us true range extension and a higher level of customer satisfaction.”
Offerings such as Store Enabler pull together payment expertise, POS and existing management software to create a whole, which can increase the complexity of implementation. But the impetus to make this happen is growing.
Some 52% of traffic to retailer websites may come from mobile, but 36% of them are buying – which is a pretty high conversion rate. This is going to only grow, spurred on by people using mobile more and more wherever they are – including in the stores.
This could have an unpredicted knock on effect: getting an ever better experience on mobile and online is making the experience in store seem ever more awful. The advent of in store wifi and especially beacons technology is only going to highlight how awful the ordering, check-out and payment processes actually are. This is going to be the real driver for change.
CHANGE IS NEEDED
One key proponent of this is Motorola. Already the leading supplier of mobile technology to retailers – mainly because they count handheld scanners and similar in-store devices as ‘mobile’ – Motorola has invested heavily in beacon technology for retail stores because it is adamant that this change is going to come.
“Retail needs to change,” says Mark Thomson, Retail Industry Solutions Director, Europe and Africa, Motorola Solutions. “Retailers need to identify consumers – especially loyal ones – as they enter the store and they need to be aided in their navigation around the store. The customer needs to be able to get help and assistance and queues need to become a thing of the past.”
To this end, Motorola has launched MPact, which connects retailers and consumers to each other, it enables staff to be more helpful and empowered and it produces data that can really help the IT department with its strategy.
Motorola sees the networking as the key element here: using wifi and Bluetooth in combination to recognise and release consumers (with wifi) and to hone in on what they want and what they are looking at (with Bluetooth). The same tech can be used to empower the staff to meet these immediate needs as they happen.
The economics stack up too. Empowering the customer in store is one thing, but empowering the staff even more is quite another.
Getting more staff out on the shop floor, each with the ability to order and take payments, is also a no brainer in terms of growing sales. Getting rid of archaic queues and lack of full stock is not only a must for the ever more discerning – and increasingly online consumer – but also a must in terms of boosting sales.
In fact you can’t afford to not empower your staff with mobile technology.
PMC’s Thomas agrees: “Mobile in-store is still relatively in its infancy so there is a great opportunity to differentiate your retail brand and start taking advantage of the cost, efficiency and up-selling opportunities that mobile brings. This is one space where the UK is lagging behind the US where nearly a third of all retailers have begun piloting the use of tablet computers on the sales floor with just over 10% of retailers already having a mobile solution deployed across their entire estate. Whereas a recent survey from retail technology vendor Omnico Group found that only 8% of stores on London’s Oxford and Regent Streets offer assistance through tablet computers in-store.”
There is a great deal of work to be done. So let’s mobilise.