Comment: Mobile is a great in-store enabler for retailers

How do you make your store a destination? Great product range, value for money, an enjoyable customer experience with attentive customer service. It's obvious isn't it, but how many of us actually receive this regularly when we shop? The product range and pricing are determined by head office. The same should be true for the customer experience but this is governed by variables that have a mind of their own – the in-store staff and technology!

Many retailers are progressing mobile strategies for their in-store technology as a way of addressing an enhanced customer experience. Mobile can be a great enabler to achieve range extension, resolve out-of-stock situations, give access to fuller product information, queue-busting and assisted selling as a way to deliver a better customer service and bigger baskets.

The problem is that implementing a mobile strategy is not very easy. There are many products coming to market that address some of these challenges but retailers are trying to reduce complexity in their store environments not add to it. Retailers are keen to take their existing solutions mobile rather than add new ones.

The majority of retailers would like to bring their website into the store to allow them to extend their range, particularly those retailers that have a wide variance in store size. Driving peripherals such as printers and scanners from a retailer's website is not easy. Taking secure payments via Chip & Pin is another significant challenge to be overcome. Many retailers are breaching acquiring rules by allowing 'customer not present' payments within the store environment. Not something I would recommend.

The omnichannel value proposition is predicated on placing the customer at the centre of everything and delivering an integrated customer experience across all the channels. For in-store solutions legacy PoS systems just do not facilitate that objective and newer tablet type devices are absolutely the way to go. The challenge though of managing the integration and driving of store based peripherals and enabling secure payments is one that needs to be addressed in order to ensure that your mobile solution is properly integrated and scalable.

Too many retailers have undergone pilot deployments in order to assess whether mobile will work for them without understanding how or whether the piloted solution can actually be deployed on an estate-wide basis. Managing products, prices, sales and promotional activity manually is ok for the short term and in small volumes but is not sustainable on an estate-wide basis rendering many pilots throw away. It is worth ensuring that mobile pilots test not just the concept of mobile in your store but also the correct flow of sales, stock and promotional data to ensure a seamless experience not just for your customers but also for your back office staff.

However, just because something is not easy it does not mean you should not do it. I have heard of many retailers recently shelving mobile implementations because trading is not as good as it should be or because cost is an issue. This seems short-sighted as the real benefit from implementing an effective (this being the key element) mobile strategy should be to increase sales, improve margin, enhance the customer experience and therefore retain and grow the customer base.

Mobile for in-store solutions is still relatively in its infancy so there is a great opportunity to differentiate your brand and start taking advantage of the cost, efficiency and up-selling opportunities that mobile brings.

This is one space where the UK is lagging behind the US where nearly a third of all retailers have begun piloting the use of tablet computers on the sales floor with just over 10% of retailers already having a mobile solution deployed across their entire estate. Whereas a recent survey from retail technology vendor Omnico Group found that only 8% of stores on London's Oxford and Regent Street offer assistance through tablet computers in-store. 

Consumers want an enhanced experience in the store. They also want to be able to receive the same promotions across all channels. Putting more of your existing staff onto the sales floor and equipping them with mobile technology can certainly enable that. As an added benefit moving some of your fixed PoS to mobile devices frees up valuable selling space. Providing your store staff with modern technologies to enhance their work experience and increase their sales success should also go some way to reduce staff turnover.

PMC's Huw Thomas is a regular columnist for Essential Retail, and you can read his views on mCommerce every month.