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Where Do You Keep the Cheese?


Shopper convenience in a retail store in the age of mobility is generating tremendous buzz across all retail formats.  There are various opportunities for retailers to deploy in-store mobile applications to provide an enriching customer experience.

Shoppers ask a lot of questions. Where do you keep the cheese? Does this deodorant have any side effects? Are there any wash care instructions for this dress? How do I connect to a Wi-Fi network in a Wi-Fi TV? Can you tell me the balance points on my card? Would it not be great to have store staff address and answer each and every customer query in the most descriptive and satisfying manner? It would also be ideal for a store associate to be available at an arm’s length to a customer, every time a customer has a query or needs assistance. Reality is different.

More than often, due to higher foot falls, it is not practically possible to provide individual attention to customers when desired. It is also not possible for each store associate to have in depth knowledge about each and every product and its usage. So, how do retailers balance the demands of personalised in-store customer service and lower store operational costs? A possible answer could lie in retailer managed in-store mobility devices and applications that can be accessed by their shoppers.
The adoption and deployment of mobile devices and applications in the retail store have taken a variety of forms. Shoppers can now download applications to get information on the latest promotions and view their loyalty points. Store applications are used by the associates on tablets and smart phones for range of business activities such as task management, space execution, inventory confirmations, performance reports etc.
One way of providing in store convenience through mobile is through software applications on shopper devices. In technology parlance, this is called Bring Your Own Device (or BYOD), where shoppers can bring their own phones and tablets into a store to be used for various activities. BYOD might work great for employees, but for customers there is still time to go. Retailers are still apprehensive about the security implications of allowing customer devices to connect with the retail enterprise from within a store. In addition to security concerns, retailers also have to invest in making the applications compatible across popular mobile platforms and devices to appeal to a large customer base.
A vast majority of retailers around the world are keenly considering an in-store mobile around their own devices. Retailer mobile devices are deployed within the store taking advantage of connectivity to an in-store network. Shoppers can access the applications on these devices during their visit to retail stores. The devices and the applications are fully managed by the retailer, putting to rest any major security concerns. This is also cost effective considering the gains from standardization of devices and applications across all stores of the retailer.
For the device, retailers can opt for rugged tablets, attractive form factor devices or even commercially available low cost tablets. The choice depends on the customer profile, usage assessment and physical security risk to the devices. Depending on the business purpose of the applications, the devices can be mounted on shopping carts, or at key points within relevant departments in a retail outlet.
Ultimately, it all comes down to the purpose of these devices, which is determined by the applications and its usability. The applications on the in-store mobile devices are designed primarily to offer sales floor support to drive conversions. These help in providing a unique customer experience by allowing customers to access various types of information and perform various transactions that would normally require the assistance of a store associate.
First of all, access to these devices can be provided only to house customers. Customers will be required to login to use the device. This can be synced to the ecommerce account that the customer has with the retailer. Customer registration can also be provided as an option for first time customers, thereby serving as a point to capture new customer data.
Identifying a customer helps the retailer achieve a wide variety of objectives. The retailer can derive usability parameters, get information on merchandise preferences, and invite customer feedback. Retailers can also drive personalized promotions and offers through targeted messaging. The shopper also stands to gain, by being able to access her account information, loyalty points and personal preferences. The services can be extended to accessing her online shopping cart, requesting for home delivery etc.
The customer facing applications that can be made available on the in-store device are endless.  Shoppers can search for a product using a standard search interface. The customer can view detailed product information, pricing information, available inventory, product videos, product location etc. on the mobile device. The retailer can also display any promotional offers for the searched products, inciting the shopper to buy the product.
This can be of huge value in merchandise departments such as consumer electronics, where shoppers can achieve a self-service access to detailed information about product specifications, usage and installation.
If the device and the store IT infrastructure are designed for tracking the location of the device within the store, then the customer can request for assistance from a store associate. Associates within the store will get an alert with the customer coordinates using which they can reach out to the customer in no time.
The applications on the in-store device can also be used to solicit customer feedback, opinions, complaints or suggestions. It can also be used to drive customer surveys. These can all be consolidated within an enterprise CRM to derive actionable insights.
In addition to the customer service and convenience benefits provided to the retailer, these applications can also supply a constant stream of data pertaining to in-store shopper behavior, shopper experience with merchandise categories, reaction to in-store promotions and lost sales.
The applications will need to be built in such a way that they can connect to a retailer’s enterprise systems in a very effective way. The applications will require access to customer information, product information, inventory information, promotional offers, customer preferences etc. It has to be ensured that all this information is transmitted securely within a retail premise to the in-store mobile device. A retailer will also need to ensure that all in-store devices across the enterprise are managed and monitored from a centralized location to prevent any unauthorized access and also to prevent damage or loss of the device. Centralized administration is also necessary to manage the content on all in-store devices across the enterprise store landscape.
Designing an in-store mobility program cannot have a one-size-fits-all approach. A retailer needs to carefully analyze a multitude of parameters before determining not only the applications, but also the content and the usability. In order to cater to wide strata of customers, it is important to orient each customer class in different way, which best suits the needs of that customer class. A certain amount of hand holding through demonstrations and signage will be required to increase user adoption. The interface can be made available in regional languages to promote adoptability as well.
Usage of retailer devices and applications within retail might not be common place in today’s world. Yet, a need for superior customer convenience and experience exist at all modern retail stores. The idea is not to suggest a phenomenally expensive proposition to retailers to procure and deploy a large number of in-store devices across all retail outlets. Retailers should consider evaluating a pilot project in certain key stores or certain merchandise categories where providing a superlative customer experience can derive visible results in store sales improvement.