Q&A: Stores Turning Tables On M-Commerce Tech

Even as retailers are busy sweeping up tinsel and crunching fourth-quarter numbers, it’s clear to observers that this holiday marked a changed approach to omnichannel strategies. And mobile, which comScore estimates accounted for $7.1 billion in sales in November and December, or 13% of all digital commerce, is still the wild card. Mark Larson, KPMG’s global head of retail, says part of the sea change is that stores -- well, physical stores, anyway -- are feeling less threatened by smartphones, and more inspired.

He tells Marketing Daily what that might mean for the year ahead.

Q: When it comes to tech, how are retailers changing most?

A: As more retailers recognize that omnichannel shopping presents a transformational opportunity, we think those that own physical stores are now viewing these stores as assets, not liabilities. And they are taking greater advantage of technology in the in-store environment. We’re seeing retail brands come up with more ways customers can use smartphones in the store, and also arming associates with more technology, so they can better help customers.

Q: Apple and Sears have long gotten a lot of attention for this. And this year, Macy’s practically gave smartphones a speaking role in their holiday ads, as if to say, “We’re cool! We know people like to shop by phone!” Is that a good idea?

A: I think so. First, it’s defensive. You demonstrate that you understand tech and can compete with the pure-play online retailers. But it also is very much an offensive strategy. It demonstrates to customers that they don’t have to go online to get digital convenience, that it can be integrated into the in-store experience, too.

Q: What do you think will be the biggest change, going forward?

A: An increase in omnichannel behavior, with retailers using mobile more as an enabler. We’ll see more of people buying online, and picking up in-store; and buying in-store, and having it delivered to their home.

Q: What are the risks of increasing the use of mobile in stores?

A: Obviously, information security and privacy, but those can be mitigated. I think a big risk is finding the appropriate match of tech with your brand and your style of merchandise. That needs to be carefully thought out. And then there is always the people risk—you need to make sure associates are trained and understand the technology, so that they can create a good experience for customers.

Q: We saw some indications this year that big retailers were less focused on mobile, and definitely spending less. Your thoughts?

A:  Retailers ignore mobile at their peril. Mobile is an asset and an advantage, but it has to be deployed correctly, in your store and your environment. 

Q: Many consumers got burned this year, purchasing gifts online that didn’t reach them in time. Will that change the way we use e-commerce in future holidays?

A: There are lessons there for retailers, in terms of forecast demand and logistics. I don’t think anyone quite anticipated the last-minute surge of shoppers. But there’s a lesson for consumers, too, about what is actually possible. I would think they will be a little more rational in the future—it’s a lot to expect that something ordered on the evening of the 23rd would be there by the 25th.

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