Apple’s iBeacons are becoming increasingly popular among retailers and event organisers, with numerous trials rolled over the past 12 months.
And now Mothercare is likely to become the latest brand to adopt the technology, though trials won’t begin until the New Year.
At Demandware’s Xchange ’14 Summit Harpinder Singh, Mothercare’s senior omnichannel development manager, discussed the brand’s current mobile platforms and what it plans for the near future.
The company operates a separate mobile site, plus apps on iPhone, iPad and Android.
But as Mothercare continues its move to becoming a multichannel business there is less focus on mobile as a sales channel and a greater appreciation of its role in the overall customer experience.
To give an insight into what this means in practice, here’s what Singh had to say on how Mothercare is approaching some of mobile’s biggest challenges…
Interaction over transaction
Like all retailers, Mothercare has to consider how it can compete with Amazon online.
Trying to compete on price will result in a race to the bottom and will ultimately drive Mothercare out of business.
Singh said that in the past the company has relied too heavily on its reputation as a specialist retailer, and is now implementing a new strategy where the customer is at the heart of all business decisions.
Our customers don’t just want to buy things. They want advice and product information. We haven’t got that right before, but mobile has given us opportunity to address that.
Mothercare uses its mobile apps to provide useful content that pregnant women and mothers will want to interact with on a daily basis, even if they don’t end up buying anything.
Mothercare’s desktop site
Though mobile conversions remain low compared to desktop, judging the channel’s success purely on sales overlooks its potential for creating valuable interactions with potential customers.
If we can create great user experiences on mobile, the transactions will take care of themselves.
Creating these valuable interactions relies on having engaging, useful content.
For Mothercare this includes a range of features within the app, such as advice videos, quirky baby tunes, classical music (some people believe this is useful for pregnant women), and the ability to take pictures of their kids within the app.
As mentioned, Mothercare plans to begin trialling iBeacons in 2015.
It’s in a strong position as it already has a popular range of apps, plus hundreds of stores in which to test the technology.
One criticism occasionally levelled at iBeacons is that they are only used for discounting and coupons, but Singh said Mothercare will more likely go down the customer service route.
This is similar to the approach adopted by some airlines and retailers, including Tesco.
The grocery giant began a trial earlier this year in its Chelmsford store and has said that the technology won’t be used to push out marketing messages.
Instead the iBeacons notify shoppers that their pre-ordered goods are waiting for them.
Ultimately iBeacons could be a central feature in Tesco’s new beta MyStore app, helping customers to find specific items in-store.
Mothercare’s mobile site
At Mothercare Singh said that he also hopes to use iBeacons to improve the in-store experience.
Therefore the trials are likely to include the use of rich content (i.e. video), detailed product information, and advice on how to navigate round the store.
Mothercare does a lot of in-store events, which is another area where iBeacons could be used to enhance the customer experience.
The use of mobile apps and iBeacons brings with it a greater focus on privacy.
Mothercare’s customers are understandably sensitive to privacy issues, and the company already gets comments from people who can’t understand why the company’s apps need access to their photos and contacts.
The use of location data will only add to these problems, but Singh believes these concerns can be overcome with a combination of the right messaging, prompt responses to customer comments, and a sensitive approach that doesn’t overwhelm people with new technology.
Mothercare has opted for a separate mobile site rather than using responsive design.
Singh explained that his team was cautious as it’s still a relatively new concept and it would be a huge job to retrofit the brand’s “super-complex sites.”
Any decision on moving to responsive design would have to be taken in the context of improving the customer experience.
We want a faster mobile site, richer photography, a better checkout, more video content. We’re trying to optimise our existing mobile site and improve the overall experience, rather than focusing on responsive design.
That said, Mothercare did move its customer help site to responsive design, which Singh described as a “useful test.”