“Attention, sales associates. Clean-up in aisle 3. Big data is spilling all over the place.”
Well, something like that. The promise of mobile technology, proximity-marketing tools like iBeacons and other Bluetooth-enabled or geo-fenced infrastructures is not just being able to market to people inches from the point of sale. What might be more valuable to retailers in the end is the new level of insight this data may provide about the shopping experience itself. How are people making decisions? What are they looking at in what order? What did they look at and not buy? All these data points are commonplace in virtual shopping. But it is only with devices that register or track user behaviors in store that we will get that level of understanding, and then be able to tie those behaviors to the sale itself.
Mobile-assisted shopping has been a dream of retailers ever since they got over their fear of showrooming. Done well, a retail companion app can feed the customer more content about products than most sales associates can muster. And it also becomes a way for retailers to keep the customer in their digital loop and capture the final sale online even if the shopper isn’t ready to seal the deal at the store.
But getting people to use specific apps and engage with them at a high level is another thing altogether. After all, people go to stores to shop, not stare into screens so retailers can better measure their behaviors. James Yancey, founder and CEO of CloudTags, which is aiming to enhance the retail experience with devices, says that in the company's preliminary talks with retailers only about 1% to 2% of customers were using mobile apps in-store. “If we can’t get people to do the experience, then the role of mobile in the store is diminished,” he says.
Working with U.K. retailer Harvey Nichols, CloudTags put 7-inch tablets into select sections of the department store. The app on the tablet showed models in outfits available in-store so customers had a better sense of how items actually looked when worn. In tests, Harvey Nichols focused on denim and women’s wear sections, because “that is where style and fit are very important,” says Sandrine Deveaux, Multichannel Director. “We wanted to use the mobile device to tell us what the customer was looking at.” The key is getting the customer to use the device but also give their email addresses to Harvey Nichols so that the shopping experience can be extended online and ultimately tracked to sales.
But to get there, you have to do more than just put tablets in stores. In fact that was the first thing Harvey Nichols learned in its trials. When they simply put the devices in kiosks at the front of the department, engagement was modest. Only about 2.4% of those who picked up the device ended up entering their email address. What turned the trial into something even more promising was training the sales associates to pick up the tablet and use it while advising customers. The company also added new functionality and trend content that helped consumers find the right product and let the associate do a lot of the driving on the app. “We encouraged the staff to use the tools as part of the selling process, and we saw very high levels of staff engagement in the data capture,” says Deveaux. The email sign-up rate then increased to 10%.
Plunking technology into the store space doesn't do a lot of good unless the sales staff itself has some ownership of it. By working with the customer using the technology, sales associates are incentivized because they can be credited with purchases that consumer makes both in the store and perhaps later online.
“It sounds basic,” Deveaux says. “But at the moment when you go into the store, the way we tend to capture customers is at the till. Are they in the database or using a loyalty card? You are missing out on the browsers. But now you can get their email before they buy.” In fact, in the trials with CloudTags, 90% of the emails harvested by the tablet experience were new to the Harvey Nichols database. The technique clearly was successful in tagging a large set of customers the retailer didn’t even know were shopping there, enabling the store to start tracking behaviors that were previously invisible.
Most important is the way those email captures lead to very successful retargeting efforts. Email follow-ups can target the in-store browser with the kind of precision retargeting achieves online. Even without highly personalized messaging, the follow-up emails to shoppers who had interacted with the devices in store enjoyed click-through rates six times higher than average.
In evolving the ways in which the technology was used in-store, Deveaux was coming upon an important point about how technology must work within and enhance -- not replace -- the enduring components of the shopping experience. One possible next step is not just to personalize products in the email follow-up, but also bring in the personality of the sales associate who served the customer in-store to extend that real-world, real-person encounter into the digital realm. Ultimately, shopping is about the experience and the people, not the technology.