Comment: How in-store mobile usage is redefining retail

While it has taken decades for online shopping to become de rigueur, mobile has taken a fraction of the time; whereas for many retailers their online business is their biggest store, there are already signs that in the next couple of years it is more likely to be their mobile application.

Hardly a week goes by without an announcement about some new mobile initiative with bricks and mortar retailers looking at how they can take mobile into their stores and use it to really drive sales, rather than considering it just as a 'showrooming' device.

Argos, for instance, is getting attention for its spin on mobile consumerism. Shoppers at some 40 of its stores, including the digital branch in London's Old Street, can now use their NFC-enabled smartphones to download information about the retailer's products and its transactional mobile app. Argos sees the value in the initiative as being able to meet new shopper requirements and to increase interaction between customers and staff – the latter having direct commercial impact, as it has been proven that when staff interact with customers, spend can increase by at 10%.

Within the grocery sector there's Sainsbury's Mobile Scan & Go, which allows customers to use their phone to scan purchases as they shop so they have a running total of exactly how much they’ve spent – and how much they have saved. There’s also the convenience factor, as there’s no need to unload the trolley for checkout, as shoppers simply scan a QR code at the “till” and pay in the usual way. While the innovation is only being trialled in four stores, how long before it is rolled out to more of the estate?

And on the subject of payment, mobile wallets are also becoming commonplace e.g. the Starbucks app on smartphones.

Setting the pace among fashion retailers is New Look, which is using iPad enhanced “pad-equinn” which allows customers to literally pop their faces onto mannequins so they can see what they look like in an outfit. It is also using Blippar, whereby customers can sample cosmetics virtually, for example, nail varnish on their hands.

Some furniture retailers are using augmented reality which enables customers to scan a product and then superimpose it onto an image of a room so they can see how it looks in situ. 

Using a phone to find products in store is something that Ikea promotes – along with the snappy slogan ‘shop smart from the start’. Its app provides details of what’s on sale, what’s in stock and where to find it.

Then there are the dozens of retailers that are using mobile to communicate offers and coupons, loyalty and payment – now almost the entry point for any retailer serious about communicating with its customers – of all ages.

On the other side of the pond, Walgreens, the US chemist chain, has an app that enables customers to find retail locations, renew prescriptions and also receive deals in-store. It claims that customers who shop in-store, online and via their mobiles spend six times more than those who only shop in-store.

Looking further ahead, it will not be that long before special offers are going to be made to customers in real time.

Consumer research specially commissioned for the Retail 2014 report*, revealed that 27% of shoppers are going to buy more fashion and 22.5% more groceries via their phone or tablet. While the proportion of consumers expecting to use a phone for clothes shopping, for instance, is only around 10% among the over-55s (it increases as the age bracket descends), this is still a statistic that will only rise as the years roll by.

Not surprisingly, the UK retail bosses surveyed for Retail 2014, confirmed that most of their investment in omnichannel will be spent on mobile, as it is going to “redefine the way retail is carried out”.  

As one retailer said: "Mobile technology will not only revolutionise consumer attitudes, but also the cost base. It will make the industry more productive. It will be much more transparent. It will change shopping behaviour dramatically."

While some retailers remark that consumers have been using mobile devices to browse but would complete the transaction on their computers, this is also changing.

The chairman of an online retailer explained: "We know that increasingly people will use mobile for transactions online. Even a year ago they tended to use it for browsing but actually used their desktops to buy. But we have noticed that people are getting comfortable with doing their full order on their mobile device."

Young people, as we are aware, do not have any qualms about using their mobiles to complete a transaction. According to one department store chief executive: "All the incremental visits to the website are coming from mobile traffic not desktop. For young people, the idea of buying from a desktop is antiquated. Mobile is the future."

YouGov predicts the ownership of tablets will have doubled in 2013 from 5.87 million to around 12 million. The BBC has just announced that more people accessed their iPlayer service on tablets than computers for the first time on Boxing Day after thousands unwrapped their new devices on Christmas morning. By all indications, the forecast for mobile retailing is for exponential growth. 

Siobhán Géhin, Partner, Kurt Salmon, will be presenting a conference session at RBTE 2014 on 'How well are UK Fashion Retailers Performing across Multiple Channels?'

Taking place in Theatre B, on 12 March at London's Earls Court, the conference will look at results from Kurt Salmon’s in-depth survey that ranks the omnichannel performance of the market leaders, covering website, mobile, social and stores and how all these channels work together to deliver the brand experience.

*Retail 2014, the report on the state of the retail sector by the leaders in retail, is produced by Retail Week in association with Kurt Salmon.

The Kurt Salmon team writes a regular column on in-store technology for Essential Retail.