It may just feel like you’ve entered a futuristic sci-fi movie with some of the latest retail tech trends exploding on the market. Retailers across the board are upping the ante to deliver a more personalized and pleasurable shopping experience to differentiate against competition, and attract and retain a new generation of clientele.
The impact of mobile technology on behavior
Mobile technology has impacted all areas of our lives, from how, when, and the degree to which we communicate/interact, consume/share information, down to what we purchase and how. Mobile technology combines two very powerful things that effect our everyday behavior: unlimited and access.
Given our present mobile existence and constant connection to people, products and brands, shopping behaviors are changing. The upshot? Mobile technology is presenting a win-win scenario for retailers and consumers alike. With its ubiquity and ease-of-use, mobile capabilities are offering retailers tremendous opportunities to appeal to customers, and customers to take control of their own retail experiences, reaping the benefits of more convenient and enjoyable ways to shop.
So, what are some of the biggest mobile retail trends and how are they impacting the industry?
Virtual Reality (VR)
Although not completely new, this emerging technology is creating quite the buzz because of its ability to make virtual brand experiences more readily accessible, eliminating prior limitations of space and time. A great example of this is Volvo’s Reality App, which enabled potential customers to test drive a new SUV model that was not yet available via their smartphone. Offering a realistic experience, the app provided users with 360 degree views of the interior of the vehicle and simulated a test drive through various panoramic scenes. The result? The first edition of Volvo’s XC90 model sold out in under two days and the app was downloaded more than 40,000 times. Another retailer approaching VR with the ultimate convenience in mind, is Neiman Marcus. It’s visual search app, ‘Snap. Find. Shop.’ allows customers to snap photos of apparel, accessories and shoes they like and it’s smart image recognition serves as a personal shopper, instantly finding similar products available. VR’s unique ability to provide a complete immersion shopping experience is expected to reduce returns, lower marketing costs and provide retailers with more efficient data. We will see more retailers continuining to build VR into their shopping journeys.
Augmented Reality (AR)
While not as immersive as VR, AR is providing retailers with an effective way to bring in-store experiences of “trying on” products and services into the homes of consumers via their mobile device. In addition to giving retailers the ability to reach those who are not physically in their store, AR is providing customers with the opportunity to examine products more closely and get a realistic vision of what they will look like in their homes or on their body, before making a purchase. Retailers like Anthropologie, created an app to give shoppers detailed views of furniture in different colors, fabrics and lighting. The same is holding true in fashion with apps like Converse’s Sampler which enables shoppers to virtually try on shoes at home, with the added ability to seamlessly share pictures with friends/family for validation before making their selection. The use of AR on mobile devices is providing retailers with an easy and interactive way to engage with, and reach targeted audiences, a likely approach we will see more of.
Unified commerce and mobile payments
VR and AR are becoming popular, but equipping associates with mobile technology/mobile pay is becoming critical to the shopping journey as well. Mobile devices are driving a shift in retail to unified commerce, blurring previous divisions between online and offline shopping experiences. According to Boston Retail Partners (BRP) survey of top retailers in North Amererica, 81% of retailers will deploy unified commerce platforms to support commerce across stores, mobile users and the web by the end of 2020. Mobility is essential to competing in an omnichannel environment, with more than a third of smartphone users worldwide estimated to use their mobile phone to pay for a purchase at a physical point of sale (POS). However, payment security continues to be a concern. Merchants that are utilizing retail IT solutions to migrate their store applications to the cloud are alleviating some security risks by eliminating the storage of customer data at the store-level. Additionally, mobile payments are enabling purchases to be made via smartphones using tokenization, providing an extra level of security.
Mobility in-store is something we will see more of from shoppers and associates alike. Consumers will continue to use their mobile phones in-store to research products, read reviews, compare prices, and increasingly, to pay for in-store purchases. Arming
in-store associates with mobile tablets, phones, headsets and handheld scanners provides retailers with the opportunity to streamline operational functions and improve the CX, such as inventory, price validation and speedier checkout processes. Most noteably, enabling the mobile point of sale (POS), which allows customers to make a purchase on the spot, without needing to wait in line. According to BRP’s 2018 POS/Customer Engagement Survey, the use of mobile devices and tablets for associates and customers will continue to increase, with an anticipated decrease in the use of traditional PC’s and POS terminals. The survey confirms that 42% of retailers currently offer mobile solutions for associates, with 78% planning to offer these tools within three years.
Strengthening your mobile retail strategy
Pew Research Center reports that 77% of Americans own smartphones. Despite the increasingly connected prospect pool, many retailers are still playing catching up with respect to their mobile strategies. According to BRP, the current priorities and initiatives for retailers are to facilitate a seamless experience across all channels. Mobile is critical to this initiative. As retailers strive to deliver a more differentiated CX, focusing on mobile retail strategies that offer convenience and simplify shopping journeys will be key.
Although there are many exciting mobile trends surfacing, the underlying network technology and infrastructure that retailers have in place becomes a critical part of the equation. To take full advantage of the mobile technology available, retailers need to overcome limitations with network availability, WiFi, security and mobile infrastructure. Enlisting the right solutions will ensure retailers benefit from the scalability and agility that a cloud-based unified commerce can provide.
Greg Griffiths is Vice President of Marketing for Windstream, where he's responsible for driving the company's digital, brand, demand, channel, content, alliances, vertical and product marketing initiatives and strategy. Greg was previously VP of Marketing for EarthLink prior to their merger with Windstream, as well as VP of Marketing for New Edge Networks where he drove the company's strategic focus on retail; a practice he continues to lead at Windstream. Griffiths previously held executive positions with Eschelon Telecom and Enhanced Telemanagement. He is a graduate of Washington State University with a degree in marketing and has served as an adjunct instructor.