Retail has so far invested in creating a mobile presence, but it has yet to harness the huge potential the mobile platform offers, a recent report (PDF) by Plastic Mobile indicates.

Though that conclusion may be a surprise, it also offers savvy businesses the opportunity to get up to speed before their competitors catch up.

We need a rethink in the industry:

  • We need to understand that fusing offline and online isn't just about ensuring coherence between the two but also about recognizing that consumers have an integrated offline and digital experience in their day-to-day lives.
  • And we must do more to take advantage of that moment when a customer gets out her smartphone inside a store.

Interesting Stats

Nearly every customer will enter your store with a secret weapon in her pocket—a smartphone—and plenty of them will use that smartphone while shopping.

If you don't have a strategy in place to get them to interact with you while they are on their phone in your shop, then you're missing a fantastic opportunity—and most retailers are indeed missing that opportunity, according to a recent review of retailers' apps by Plastic Mobile. 

Customers, on the other hand, want to be able to integrate mobile experiences while they're inside a shop, according to a recent survey by Walker Sands: 

  • 64% of survey participants say they have used their mobile device to research products while in a brick-and-mortar store.
  • 52% say they would be more likely to shop at a retailer with an in-store navigation on a mobile.
  • 59% said they would be more likely to shop at a store offering self-checkout via a mobile device.

How You Do It

So, what ways can you capitalize on consumers' in-store mobile use? Plenty.

Mobile optimization can be used to not only improve customer service but also increase loyalty and engagement.

In-Store Checkouts

Here is an idea that is starting more than a few murmurs within retail: A consumer can buy items without having to queue up at the checkout. Rather, by either using a mobile app on their own phone—or, more realistically at the moment, by approaching an assistant who carries a mobile device—shoppers can buy the item immediately, on the shop floor, via one-to-one service, without any queuing.

JCPenney staff are issued iPod Touches enabled with software that lets them check out items, and it's proving to be a huge success. It not only improves customer experience but also frees up shop assistants—an added efficiency for stores. Assistants can quickly help someone pay for an item and then be free to walk around the store doing necessary jobs rather than being tied to a static unit where they have to stand and wait for customers.

Social Media

  1. Make your handles visible. At the very least, you should have your social handles/account names visible within the store, encouraging shoppers to like or tweet you.

    If you can get a customer tweeting pictures to you of your products while they are in your store (with fully branded background) then you're in the ideal scenario, where consumers are doing the marketing for you. But you can go far beyond this scenario.
  2. Offers and competitions. Offer in-store customers exclusive offers. Get your customers to Like you while they are in your shop and in return give them a 10% discount or a free item. Have exclusive voucher codes that are advertised only in store (maybe bespoke ones for each store, letting you loosely track social engagement by geographical area in a new kind of way); customers would then be able to use those voucher coders on their mobiles. Create a "selfie" area in a shop and run a social media competition. None of those are radically new ideas, but they will increase engagement and loyalty.
  3. Rethink personalization. If you want to take cues from e-commerce and rethink personalization, why not consider offers that are tailored to people based on their online profile, but which get flagged to them only at the final stage, by a shop assistant, when they are buying from them on the shop floor?

    There are possibilities for "signing in" a customer when an assistant uses a mobile device to check them out; if that action could flag a bespoke offer, which an actual human could tell them about, you've got a fusion of offline and online that couldn't be more personalized and personable.
  4. Branded wallets. The relatively new concept of branded wallets is becoming popular. Branded wallets allow customers to check loyalty points and offers and to manage their respective accounts with retailers. It also gives retailers the opportunity to create bespoke offers and experiences.

The overall aim here is to increase loyalty and engagement. A mobile device gives you the opportunity to have a one-on-one conversation with a customer, and that means creating more than just a mobile presence.

Do It Now While It's Still New

JCPenney has been very vocal about its ambition to convert to a totally mobile checkout solution, but at the moment the idea still has enough newness to gain points just for the novelty of the experience.

We're just on the brink of really harnessing all this technology to make our lives more convenient, and yet you still have to deal with the mundane reality of queuing at checkouts on a busy Saturday afternoon.

Imagine that first experience of skipping a queue and paying while you're still browsing around the shop; it's a memory that will stick, and you're likely to remember the brand that first brought it to you.

The Burberry Flagship Store

One example of a store that has really invested in fusing offline and online is the Burberry flagship store on Regent Street. It has blended the digital and physical to the extent that mirrors inside the shop actually become personalized, interactive screens. The store is also used to screen live global events and gigs, or "choreographed audio-visual take-overs," as they like to call them.

Obviously that is a massive investment and not one that all retailers should be emulating, but it's this kind of store—where the company has really thought about how it can take advantage of both real-world and digital experiences—that retail is heading toward, and it's this kind of approach that other fashion outlets can learn from.

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Bricks and Mortar and Mobile: How to Take Advantage of an Unrealized Opportunity

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image of Catherine Dickinson

Catherine Dickinson is a content strategist at wholesale fashion outlet Continental Textiles.