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Comment: New Amazon patent risks harming retailers’ relationships with customers says Vanessa Walmsley of Qmatic

Last week saw the announcement of a new patent held by Amazon, which has been designed to intercept customers who attempt to make a price comparison on their mobile devices while in-store. Besides being a fairly aggressive sales tactic – which would instead provide a personalised offer to the consumer - there is a strong argument that this could in fact be detrimental to retailers. Could this approach ultimately increase friction levels with customers, damaging brand loyalty and creating a negative customer experience?

The Amazon patent works by stopping customers from visiting a price comparison or competitor’s website while connected to the shop’s WiFi. Retailers may then be able to offer consumers a voucher for the same item, or tempt them to purchase the item immediately by notifying them of its availability in-store.

However research by Censuswide, commissioned by Qmatic, suggests that this will restrict the way consumers like to shop today. In a study of over 2,000 shoppers, it was revealed that 80 per cent of consumers like to look online before committing to a purchase and 42 per of consumers are likely to use their phone for non-voice activity while in a retail store – this could involve texting a friend to get an opinion on an item or checking a price comparison website.

Amazon’s new patent, if implemented by retailers, could leave customers more than a little frustrated. As mobile device use has hit a maturity in the market, customer expectations of the brands they buy from have shifted. Retailers need to consider how they optimise the in-store environment for today’s mobile user, particularly if they wish to create a seamless and frictionless omnichannel experience. Arguably, the new patent does the opposite of this. The research clearly highlights how mobile is forming an integral part of the customer journey. As such, not being able to use your mobile device as you wish would be frustrating for customers, but could also lead to distrust and could harm brand loyalty.

Customer engagement is today driven and controlled by the customer – retailers that recognise and adapt to this will be the ones to succeed as the market changes. Retailers should explore how they can boost in-store mobility to create a more personalised and positive customer experience, instead of restricting them. This will lead to higher levels of shopper satisfaction and ultimately sales.

Mobile technology enables customers and employees to move around the retail environment seamlessly, either while they await their service interaction or as they are engaged in the interaction itself, and team members can relate personally and directly with customers on their terms from anywhere in the environment. Retailers can use mobile technology to offer a more personalised experience – via a mobile app on a tablet for example – understanding and processing the customers’ needs as they walk in the door.

Most retailers have already optimised their websites for today’s mobile generation, but the same must now be true for the in-store environment. Mobile technology is the connecting force that stands to join the online and physical worlds; this technology helps to match and exceed the seamlessness of online shopping, ultimately creating a more omnichannel experience. The integration of mobile technology to the in-store environment can win over new customers, deepen relationships with existing customers, and raise the productivity and satisfaction levels of staff members.

Vanessa Walmsley is managing director of Qmatic UK