Mobility and mobile customer engagement is on the mind of European retailers but there are still areas for development, according to new research conducted by Essential Retail and mobile operators association GSMA.

Results of the In-store Shopper Journey Questionnaire indicated that 75% of retailers have a dedicated mobile strategy and 79% of them already offer, or would consider offering, in-store Wi-Fi access to their customers. These findings highlight how companies operating in the sector have recognised the importance of catering for the increasingly switched-on consumer who wants to use their smartphone or tablet within the traditional shopping journey.

Gaps remain in retailer mobile offering, though, with 42% of respondents not yet providing their customers with a mobile app and 69% yet to implement contactless payment facilities, despite its reported growing popularity in the grocery and convenience sectors. Contactless technology is set to appear in more high street stores in the future, it would seem, with 58% of the retailers not yet offering it in their stores planning to do so.

Apps are becoming a more common part of the in-store retail ecosystem, with Sainsbury's recently announcing that it is trialling one that will allow its customers to build a virtual basket of their favourite products before they shop, as well as scan goods at the shelf and pay for items via their smartphones without the need to pass through a physical checkout.

When asked to rank at which point it is most important to engage with customers on their mobiles, retailers responding to the Essential Retail/GSMA study typically chose pre-store as opposed to in-store, at the point of transaction or post transaction. This would indicate that retailers believe it is crucial to influence consumers early on in their shopping journey to secure their custom, with in-store mobile engagement perhaps viewed as a bonus upselling opportunity.

Last week saw Tesco announce that it is rolling out free, fast Wi-Fi in all of its larger stores across the UK and Ireland.

The UK's largest retailer is not the first industry player to provide its customers with this facility, with Asda and Waitrose among the other larger businesses already offering the service, and judging by the results of the Essential Retail/GSMA survey others are looking to follow suit.

When retailers were asked which services they would consider offering customers via mobile inside a store, Wi-Fi access was the most popular response (79%). Some 58% of respondents indicated they would look to use mobile to offer their customers help while they are in a store, while 56% of them are willing to allow customers to access their loyalty accounts on mobiles during the bricks and mortar shopping experience.

Other popular retailer in-store mobile engagement considerations include providing standard product information such as extra imagery and ingredients, and the capacity to scan items barcodes or QR codes to access promotions.

Ben Sillitoe, editor of Essential Retail, said: "Retailers are showing a thirst to implement in-store consumer engagement strategies using mobile technology as it is clear that a growing number of their customer base are embarking on their shopping journeys with smartphones and tablets in their hands.

"The problem these businesses have, as with any emerging market, is where to hedge their bets. Finding the best strategy might involve trialling a number of the options available and being prepared to fail fast and quickly move on to the next engagement tactic; only by testing these new in-store mobile capabilities will they get to understand how their customers want to interact with them, and we all know that creating loyal, happy customers is the ultimate goal."

You can click here to see the results by retail sector, highlighting the ways different parts of the industry are looking to engage with in-store customers through their mobile devices.

It can be argued that the results of the survey are encouraging because they show retailers are considering a plethora of options in relation to building mobile strategies. However, the breadth of options these companies are deliberating over highlights the difficulties in choosing the right mobile engagement path for their individual customers.

Paul Crutchley, strategic engagement director at the GSMA, commented: "One of the biggest challenges for mobile retail is increasing customer confidence and trust technology – and this will not happen overnight.

"By educating customers on the value of using their mobile device for shopping, retailers can continue to convert the traffic they receive from mobile devices into sales. Training in store staff is also crucially important, to ensure shoppers making use of digital commerce services are supported and encouraged as they explore news ways to browse, select and pay for goods. Lack of interoperability also makes it difficult for retailers to know which systems they should be adopting. With so many services available, all requiring different payment terminals, it could become very costly for a retailer to have them all available.

"These challenges will be overcome by retailers developing and working toward a deep and rich understanding of their customers. By collating and analysing data around the overall shopping experience brands and retailers will be able to target customers and position products and offerings in a way that allows the in-store shopper to research, see and find what they want quickly, easily and safely throughout the purchase journey."

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