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It's natural that some retailers will feel threatened by the growing use of mobile in store, but the answer is to embrace this trend and use it to enhance the in-store experience. 

Retailers can do this by providing apps and mobile optimised sites, but also by offering wi-fi to customers. 

According to an On Device Research (ODR) survey of mobile users, 60% of respondents have used the mobile internet while in stores, while 78% would use free wi-fi in stores if offered it. 

The use of smartphones by consumers is growing, and many are now using them to compare prices, and search the web for product reviews. 

So how can retailers adapt and use this customer behaviour to their advantage? 

Mobile use in retail stores

There are now plenty of surveys which show the growth of mobile usage in retail stores

  • An iModerate survey found that more than half of smartphone owners are using the internet in stores, with price comparison, checking store locations, and hunting for discounts the most common reasons. 
     
  • Our Mobile Planet data sees 24% of UK smartphone owners taking their phones shopping with them in order to compare prices and inform themselves about products.
     
  • A Toluna/Econsultancy survey from May last year found that 19% of 2,000 online respondents had used their mobiles to compare prices and look at product reviews while out shopping.

Why do consumers use mobile in store? 

There are two main reasons:

Price comparison

This is usually the main purpose of using mobile in stores, which makes perfect sense. The state of the economy means that customers are more price sensitive than ever, and mobile is the perfect tool for the job. 

What's more, there are often huge savings to be made. If I'm looking at a TV in an electrical retailer, it's quite possible I could save £100 by checking for the same product on Amazon. 

Looking for reviews

This is another common reason to reach for the smartphone when in store, and this is a behaviour that high street retailers should encourage. 

Checking for a review of a product is a sure sign of purchase intent. It means they like the look of a product, and are perhaps just seeking some reassurance. 

The threat for retailers

The problem for retailers is that, whatever the quality of service in store and the range of products on offer, shoppers always have the option of checking prices on their mobile phones and heading online, or to another high street retailer to make the purchase. 

This 'unbundling of the shopping experience', and the threat from online retailers is described in detail here by Ashley Friedlein

There are a number of mobile apps and websites that enable in store shoppers to check and compare product prices, but Amazon’s mobile products represent possibly the biggest single threat to offline retailers.  

Using the barcode scanner on the app, customers can easily check the products they are looking at in store on Amazon’s site. 

Since Amazon is often cheaper, with a variety of delivery options, this can pose a real threat. 

How can offline and multichannel retailers meet this challenge? 

Don't block internet access

I've seen a few stories around, which are difficult to substantiate, about retailers attempting to put obstacles in the way of customers with smartphones.

This could be counter-productive, and is certainly not the kind of tactic a forward-thinking retailer should be using. 

Offer reviews at the point of sale

Retailers with reviews and ratings on their websites can easily bring this information into stores to help push products. 

If a digital camera is recommended for the casual photographer, and has an average review score of five stars from 35 reviews, why not use this information? 

I like the recommendations that can often be found in bookshops and wine merchants, which have been written by staff. They can help customers decide what to buy, and also have a personal touch that can appear more trustworthy. 

In the same vein, retailers could combine online opinions with staff recommendations and other third party reviews. 

Make sure you have a mobile site or app

If customers are going to pick up their phones and look for reviews, persuade them to use your site for this. Promote it in store. 

If you can provide the reviews they need, then customers won't have to use competitors' sites where they might find a better deal. 

Better still, provide them with a link on the store shelf where they can find reviews, or maybe a QR code or barcode to scan and view further information. 

Comet provides a great example of this with its recent barcode scanning app. The purpose of the barcode scanner is not necessarily to allow price comparison while in competitors' stores, though I'm sure Comet won't mind if customers are doing this. 

Instead, the main purpose is to make it easier for customers to see enhanced information on products on the shopfloor.

Comet promotes this in store, and the site and app have some very comprehensive product pages replete with reviews and expert buyer's guides, allowing customers to access this information when they need to see it. 

Better still, it means they don't have to visit Amazon to find out. 

It works too. Mobile now accounts for 10% of Comet's traffic, and the retailer enjoys an advantage in this area over multichannel rival Currys/PC World. 

Mobile vouchers

For retailers that offer voucher codes online, allowing these codes to be redeemed in-store is one way to increase footfall, and maybe do some cross-selling when they arrive. 

In conjunction with wi-fi, retailers could even target customers when they are using their mobiles in store. 

NFC / mobile payments

NFC technology is yet to capture the public imagination, but it does give consumers another payment option for those times when they suddenly realise they have forgotten to get cash out and they are already at the cash register with their shopping.

Make sure they can access the information they need

This is where wi-fi comes in. It's about making the mobile experience easier for customers. Instead of relying on variable 3G connections, providing internet access means they can browse reviews, scan QR codes, and use AR apps like Blippar to their heart's content. 

Let's say a customer wants to see a review. If their 3G signal is poor and they can't find what they want, will they still buy that camera? 

Providing wi-fi means that they can easily access the information, while it also allows them to download your own app. 

Wi-fi and efficient customer targeting 

Wi-fi in store also provides a way to capture customer details and target them with offers. In fact, customers would be willing to receive some offers in return for the convenience of decent wi-fi. 

Tesco recently introduced this in its larger stores. It does require a slightly clunky registration process which involves entering clubcard numbers, but the retailer is then armed with your purchase history. If Tesco can sweeten this process with a discount or two, it may well be worth the effort. 

According to the ODR survey embedded below, 74% of respondents would be happy for the retailer to send a text or email with promotions.

They're in store, when better to sell them breakfast cereal or push a promotion? 

House of Fraser recently ran a promotion in conjunction with O2, using free wi-fi, which aimed to drive incremental sales in the run up to Christmas. John Lewis recently added wi-fi to its stores. 

In an excellent guest post from last year, Dave Wieneke looked at how mobile can be used to enhance the in-store experience for consumers, as well as providing retailers with some precision tools to target the mobile customer. 

A blend of location and personalisation can make life easier for customers, while allowing retailers to target customers with relevant offers and recommendations. 

One great example of this came from the French Casino supermarket chain. Its iPhone app allows users to compile shopping lists before heading to the store, where they can use their mobile to scan and pay for items in store.

This is useful for the customer, but also provides the retailer with a wealth of information of the customer's preferences and shopping habits. 

Combine this with technology like Tesco's in-store 'sat nav' app and you have the ability to target customers in real time, according to their location. 

Let's say the customer is entering the dairy aisle. They bought a particular brand of butter last week, and there's an offer on that this week. It's just five yards away. 

Customers already have the smartphone and tablet technology in their bags and pockets that makes this possible, it's just a question of adapting to this and making it easier by providing wi-fi. 

Mobile isn't going away, and the retailers that adapt to this trend quickly and use it to improve the customer experience will have a big advantage over their competitors.  

Graham Charlton

Published 7 February, 2012 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is the former Editor-in-Chief at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin or Google+

2565 more posts from this author

Comments (8)

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Andy

Some eye opening statistics and graphs there. I would suggest retailers work closer with respected price comparison sites so they can help consumers make informed choices in their retail stores and not rivals.

about 4 years ago

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Mark Goldsmith

Retailers don't need to worry about "showrooming" as much as they need to worry about footfall.

At the moment the electrical sector relies almost exclusively on low prices to attract their customers. So no wonder people want to compare their price when they get in store - too often they are only in the shop because of the promise of a great deal.

But this tactic is getting less and less effective and these retailers need to realise that shopping is not just a transactional process based solely on price. It is also about the time it takes to research the right product and the anxiety and/or enjoyment that goes with it.

Retailers that offer pleasurable experiences that take the worry out of the process are the ones that will survive. Just look at how Curry’s or Comet attracts its customers and compare that to the John Lewis Christmas advert to see how it can be done.

about 4 years ago

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Neil Hopkins

Let's not forget the opportunity to connect consumers with producers via QR Code scanning or a host of other opportunities to deepen connection with product...

Furthermore, with the rise of ethical shopping, consumers could be empowered to make decisions on the shop floor, rather than expecting them to do all the research at home.

It's a power shift, simple as that. And one that consumers are now expecting rather than hoping for.

about 4 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

@Mark This was not really the focus of the article, but mobile also has a part to play in driving footfall, through mobile search, vouchers etc.

I agree that discounting as a tactic isn't sustainable in the long term, and mobile can help to enhance the instore experience.

about 4 years ago

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Peter Kay

Excellent piece, for a while now we have been looking at this particular issue. It definitely not one that is going away. Especially if we have anything to do with it.

about 4 years ago

Gray Sycamore

Gray Sycamore, Chief Strategy Officer at Mobileize

The first critical step for any retailer is to make sure their stores appear in mobile search. This simple task is the really the most important – if a mobile using customer cannot find the store in the first place then the in-store mobile experience described here is going to be an irrelevance, as those types of customers will most likely be in a competitors store.

about 4 years ago

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Ryan

I wish more retailers did enable Wi-Fi.
It would really cut out mobile internet for service providers like Verizon and AT&T, but it is better for the people.
People connect via the internet now more than ever so it is important for people to connect while in your business.
Great way to build word of mouth :)

about 4 years ago

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Eptica Blog

Retailers also need to make sure they are providing excellent, integrated customer service across the mobile channel. Bear in mind that mobile devices give consumers the power to send queries by email, post to social media or just call the contact centre while they are instore, so you need to be able to provide consistent, fast responses if you want to retain them.

about 4 years ago

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