Retailers Reluctantly View In-Store Mobile Solutions as a Must-Do

By Paul Wolf

“Mobile is more than a ‘must-do.’ It really does matter.” -- Paul Wolf, vice president of Retail and Consumer Products for Xerox.
“Mobile is more than a ‘must-do.’ Without it, retailers will not survive. ” — Paul Wolf, vice president of Retail and Consumer Products for Xerox.

Mobile is here and now. There’s no going back. Google reports that the vast majority of shoppers with smartphones (84 percent) use their phones while in a store. The report also notes that frequent “smartphone shoppers” spend more in stores than consumers who use a mobile phone occasionally. A Gallup poll shows that 18- to 29-year-olds are nearly twice as likely to use mobile technology to increase (29 percent) rather than decrease (15 percent) their shopping at retail stores. It’s clear that mobile retail solutions matter.

What isn’t so clear is what retailers are currently thinking and doing about mobility in the store. Xerox and Retail Systems Research surveyed retail executives, which examined in-store technology, including mobile. Here, we share some high-level insights:

  • Fear and Distraction. When it comes to mobile technology in the store, retailers are reluctant, especially in terms of mobile devices in the hands of their frontline workers. While some see the opportunity for better informed and educated employees who can serve customers better, others see distracted and disinterested employees huddled behind walls playing Candy Crush on their smartphones or tablets. The data show that retailers say mobile is very important (51 percent) for in-store functions (not shopper access), yet only 39 percent also say mobile hardware is valuable to give to store employees. This dichotomy may imply the fear factor.

  • Mobile is a “Must-Do.” Retailers aren’t all that excited about more technology, including mobile. But they recognize the imperative. Retailers face a smarter, well-informed and online shopper—one who arrives at the store and uses their device to compare products, features and pricing. They often know more than employees. As proof, retailers list consumer price sensitivity (51 percent), showrooming (33 percent) and increased price transparency as three top challenges.
  • Winners Embrace Mobile. RSR dubs retailers as “winners” or “laggards,” depending on whether the retailer has achieved sales beyond the industry average. The retailers who embrace mobile– use e-commerce sites, provide retailer-specific mobile apps, and communicate with shoppers on their smartphones while they are in the store–are most successful.

Undoubtedly, mobile is deemed important, yet it seems retailers aren’t sure how to apply mobile so that it rejuvenates the in-store experience.  The RSR report sums it up: “Retailers seem to be underwhelmed by many of the in-store technologies they’ve deployed… (but) winning retailers recognize that mobile is essential to drive traffic to stores—and to serve customers while they are shopping in stores.” Deena Amato-McCoy of the Aberdeen Group concurs: “Shoppers are entering stores with smart devices and using them as shopping tools (and) retailers need to be ready, like it or not.”

In my view, retailers and shoppers both win by teaching store employees how to use mobile devices and content to serve customers. A sales associate walking the floor to find customers with questions—and then having immediate answers available in full, rich, dynamic content, is shopper nirvana. Workers become living, thriving customer loyalty programs in action. They become more productive and shoppers become more loyal.

Mobile is more than a ‘must-do.’ Without it, retailers will not survive.

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