There has always been plenty of friction between traditional brick-and-mortar retailers and their online counterparts, especially as consumers reach more frequently into their pockets to shop through mobile devices. In a world where every competitor stows away in the pocket of your customers, many who come only to examine physical merchandise before purchasing online, traditional retail is overdue for new strategies and tools to fight back.
We are now witnessing a new generation of online/offline consumer engagements, in which the physical experience of shopping will be augmented rather than replaced by advancements in mobile platforms. CMOs in the retail space should already be rethinking their integrated mobile and store strategies in order to take full advantage.
Mobile apps have been an evolving component of the digital retail experience. Many retailers currently provide little more than store locators and basic product information, while pioneering brands are taking more steps to introduce full mobile commerce capabilities and other innovative features. Starbucks is helping customers jump the line, for example, with unique in-store payment methods that now account for over 10% of their volume. American Airlines’ mobile app enables passengers to check in for their flight, get a mobile boarding pass, or even change their seat selection. The opportunities will soon expand at an accelerated pace.
When Apple unveiled iOS7 at their Worldwide Developers Conference, the introduction of iBeacon technology went largely unnoticed. iBeacons are small wireless sensors (about the size of two stacked quarters) that can be placed just about anywhere and use Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) to passively communicate with iPhones and compatible Android phones. Obvious use cases include personalized promotions, couponing, and other incentives; but there are far greater, potentially game-changing opportunities.
Retailers could automatically identify high value customers and alerting retail associates with in-store directions to the customer's location. Using a mobile device (or Google Glass), associates could greet customers by name and use their purchase history to initiate more intelligent conversations about new products. Product displays might take on a greater role as well: highlighting different features based on the customer's profile, upselling recommended accessories, providing instant comparisons, or perhaps leaving customers with a guide to better use their new purchase at home.
iBeacon technology represents an enormous opportunity for brick-and-mortar retailers to add greater value and customization to the in-store experience, while also building a persistent connection to the second-most valuable item in every consumer's pocket: their mobile phone. It's no wonder, then, that Apple intends to put the technology to work in its stores just in time for the holiday shopping season, and is collaborating with Major League Baseball to bring about new game day experiences at stadiums nationwide.
Very shortly, this rather simple technology will serve as a meaningful connection in the long underemphasized relationship between mobile devices and the physical retail experience, and provide newfound opportunity for embattled retail CMOs to regain control.
Here are some key considerations to keep in mind when planning an integrated in-store/mobile experience for customers: