Retailers have been continually challenged with how to better engage with mobile shoppers.
There was the showrooming fear, where merchants expected to see their stores become mere product display areas for customers who would then simply buy online.
Over time it turned out that the overwhelming majority of shoppers still preferred to make their purchases in a physical store.
As the number of app downloads exploded along with the proliferation of highly evolved mobile technology, retailers poured resource into app development.
Over time, major retailers found that most shoppers use their phones in stores but by using mobile websites and even the store’s own website rather than the app.
But what also was learned over time is the realization that in-store shoppers prefer to use their phones for product information rather than dealing with sales associates.
A furniture chain is attempting to tackle that issue, by providing customers with customized tablets to aid them as they shop and hopefully make furniture buying easier.
Shopping for furniture is hardly like going out for bread and milk and can be a lengthy process involving online research and multiple store visits.
“Customers in the journey didn’t love any furniture shopping in any furniture store,” said Stephen Haffer, CIO and EVP at American Signature, based in Columbus, Ohio. “The whole experience was broken. We wanted to make buying furniture easier.”
Customers entering the furniture store are offered a tablet to use as they shop.
There are special product tags on each piece of furniture in the showroom. Digital sensors and NFC technology help guide the shopping trip by providing product features, reviews, real-time availability and delivery dates along with related online-only products.
The system tracks the items interacted with and delivers personalized recommendations based on location data and expressed interests.
Customers are allowed to purchase at any point, whether in a store, using their mobile phone or online. A shopper can put a product aside in a cart at home and then open the cart on a tablet in the store.
James Yancey, founder and CEO of CloudTags, the company that supplies the tablets and the technology, said that the tablet users don’t have to sign in or register; they simply use the tablets while they shop. When finished, they have the option of registering.
“A segment of our customers want to use it,” said Haffer.
One of the keys to making the system work involved aligning sales commissions so that any salesperson involved along the path to purchase could share in the final commissions of a sale, even if the final purchase is made online at home.
Four of the 122 stores have the tablet program, with about a dozen tablets per store, with the next launch planned for Chicago.
Shoppers who gravitate to using the in-store tablets tend to be people who are used to using technology and are comfortable with a self-guided experience, Haffer said.
After using the tablets for several months, American Signature has some results.
They found that most (95%) of customer emails collected via the tablets were previously unknown to the company and that the average order value of customers who made post-visit purchases was 20% higher than others.
Haffer estimates that fewer than 10% of customers use the tablets but those that do tend to have a high intent to purchase and the tablet experiences tends to “surprise and delight” the shoppers.
The percentage of consumers using the tablets may not yet be high, but the results from those shoppers can easily make it worth it.