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Four ways to drive retail in-store sales through mobile.

The growing use of mobile devices in-store is transforming the shopping experience. As mobiles empower shoppers to be online at any time and anywhere, how can retailers benefit from this behaviour by driving engagement and, ultimately, conversion in-store?

Consumers are changing the way they interact with a retailer in their purchase journeys, and the smartphone is at the heart of this change.

According to Google, 84% of shoppers with smartphones use their devices to help shop while in–store; shoppers use smartphones each step of the way from pre-purchase research to sharing latest purchases with friends on social media.

Omni-channel retail continues to evolve as digital technology changes the way shoppers buy

Both showrooming (customers browse in store and then buy online) and webrooming (customers research online and then buy in-store) are now popular with customers, although the instant gratification that comes with an in-store purchase, combined with a flawless in-store shopping experience, can encourage webrooming and drive store sales, even in the face of a negative price differential between channels.

According to Forrester, webrooming will result in $1.8 trillion in sales by 2017 compared to an estimated total ecommerce sales figure of $370 billion. Customers’ use of their own mobile devices presents a tremendous opportunity for retailers to maximise returns from their store estate, and therefore a robust digital strategy needs to be at the core of in-store sales. Here are four essential elements of an in-store digital strategy.

1 Embrace free Wi-Fi in-store to improve the customer experience and capture information

Retailers need to embrace free Wi-Fi as a way to improve the customer experience as well as capture information about customer behaviour.

As self-service becomes the new norm, shoppers are comparing prices, reading reviews and searching for promotions in-store through their own digital devices. This makes free Wi-Fi a double-edged sword, with some retailers shying away from it for fear of their customers turning to competitors’ offers. However, the universal availability of mobile Internet means consumers are comparing prices, with or without free Wi-Fi.

Fast, stable and free Wi-Fi means better customer service, attracting an increased footfall. A splash page on log-in allows retailers to showcase top sellers and promotions to customers, or present products from an extended range. While physical space limits the number of products a retailer can show in store, customers can browse the online store and access the ‘endless aisle’ of products otherwise not available in that particular store or which are out-of-stock at the time.

In 2011, John Lewis was the first UK department store to offer free Wi-Fi in-store; its lead was quickly followed by others, such as House of Fraser and Debenhams.

Generate in-store customer data to provide personalised communication and offers to customers

In-store location analytics is a recent innovation that provides insight into how customers move around stores, and is particularly useful for large stores and shopping centres. As a customer’s mobile phone searches for Wi-Fi, even if it does not connect, it is broadcasting its unique media access control (MAC) address. While not attributable to a specific customer, capturing this unique signature from multiple Wi-Fi antennae provides information on frequency of visits, dwell time and customers’ paths through the shopping space.

A richer source of customer data is available if a customer accesses a store’s Wi-Fi service via a social media login, such as Facebook or Twitter, or uses the store’s mobile app to gain access. These methods can give the retailer access to customer name, email address and details such as age, buying habits and interests.

By analysing this data, Wi-Fi analytics can tell retailers who is in a store, the devices they use, the websites they visit, when and how often they come to a store, and which areas of the store they visit. Although there are privacy issues to be addressed, retailers can still extrapolate valuable information about their customers’ profiles, habits and behaviours. This knowledge should reveal actionable insight, for example allowing a retailer to personalise customer experiences and subsequent marketing activity.

2 Use beacons to improve in-store customer experience

Beacons are small devices that use Bluetooth to communicate with a customer’s smartphone. Beacons can be used to provide location-targeted advertisements, help customers to find products on the shop floor, and track a customer’s movement across the store.

Adoption of beacons has been slow as customers need to download an app, have Bluetooth turned on and allow their location to be shared with the retailer. However, stores like Lord & Taylor and Macy’s in the US are deploying them more widely as a result of successful pilots, although ensuring they do not overload customers with offers.

The success of Macy’s trial with iBeacons (developed by Apple) through partner Shopkick, which started in November 2013, has led the retailer to roll out 4000 devices in Macy’s stores across the USA. The app allows customers to access location and department-specific offers, discounts and recommendations.

Another successful implementation of beacons was at St Pancras International. In January 2015, the free app – StP – was launched, and allows retailers to send permission-based targeted and customised promotional offers to station visitors’ smartphones, as well as provide wayfinding, real-time travel information, and facts about the local area and the history of St Pancras.

3 Leverage a mobile app to engage customers and drive loyalty in-store

In a world of mobile-optimised and responsive websites, mobile apps are the choice of the loyal customer. Apps help customers find their nearest stores, check inventory, navigate in-store and scan barcodes for extended product information and customer reviews.

The mobile app of UK pharmacy chain, Boots, works with its Advantage Card loyalty scheme to offer personalised vouchers based on a customer’s previous purchases that can be redeemed in-store. The mobile app of French beauty chain, Sephora, has all the standard features, plus on-the-go beauty advice, access to a shopping list and past purchases. Its app’s integration with its loyalty scheme goes further than Boots’, allowing customers to load loyalty points into Apple’s Passbook for in-store redemption.

4 Tap into NFC Technology to give customers stock information and easy payment options in-store

Near field communication (NFC) is a set of standards that enables smartphones and other devices to establish radio communication and hence pass small amounts of data when held a few centimetres from each other, without the need for the pairing the Bluetooth standard demands. It is an easy and intuitive technology that allows smart devices to be used for a variety of specific purposes.

Customers of Bon-Ton Stores in the US can find out if a shoe is in stock (in the desired size and colour) by tapping an NFC-enabled phone onto the sole of the shoe. The NFC tag on the sole of the shoe also allows the customer to see the nearest store with availability or order the product via a mobile phone.

Using an NFC-enabled mobile phone to pay for goods in-store simplifies and speeds up the payment process. Apple Pay, EE Cash on Tap, Vodafone Smartpass, Barclaycard PayTag, Android Pay and Samsung Pay all use NFC technology. Apple Pay allows a customer to store bank, store and loyalty cards, and pay via card or redeem discounts and reward points. New Look, M&S and JD Sports already offer Apple Pay in their stores in the UK.

The customer’s mobile device in store has a central role in creating a strong omni-channel shopping experience. Retailers need to ensure they invest in this channel to stay competitive and relevant.

FIND OUT MORE about Javelin Group’s Technology Consulting practice.