In recent years, many retailers have rolled out solutions that rely on mobile beacon technology in their stores, only to find that these solutions have failed to yield the results that users craved.
The problem hasn’t been with mobile beacons themselves. The technology still holds a lot of potential, which some retailers are using to great effect (for example, by dispatching a store associate when a customer lingers in front of a high-ticket item). Rather, the problem has been that some stores don’t have clear goals in mind for their deployments, which they realize only after they end up with gigabytes of very specific data about how many times their customers circle the toilet paper aisle.
With retailers racing to embrace digital transformation, cutting-edge IT is more important than ever. But solutions must be deployed in ways that help stores solve real problems, not merely chase trends. Here are three popular IT tools that retailers can use to create customer value.
1. Mobile Point of Sale Solutions
While mobile payment terminals can improve customer service in a variety of settings, not every store will use them in the same way. In a large department store, mobile point of sale technology gives employees the flexibility to serve customers across different store sections, and then take payment when they are ready to check out. In a smaller store with a central cash wrap, mPOS might be used only for line busting.
Other retailers might use mPOS primarily as a way to encourage employees to circulate and prevent theft. And it’s okay, too, if a store’s model simply doesn’t lend itself to mPOS (no one has ever wished they could pay for their broccoli in the produce aisle of a grocery store).
2. Inventory Management Tools
Nearly all major retailers use radio-frequency tags to prevent theft, and more sophisticated systems enable stores to track their inventory in real time. Stores can get more out of these investments, though, if they find ways to integrate their inventory data with customer-facing platforms such as mobile apps or smart shelves.
One advantage brick-and-mortar stores maintain over online-only retailers is that shoppers can get what they need there immediately. But when customers trek to the store and can’t find an item on the shelf, they quickly become frustrated. By simply making information that stores already track (such as whether items are in stock in the store or perhaps at another nearby location) more readily available to their shoppers, retailers can improve the customer experience.
3. Retail Mobile Apps
Too often, the “problem” being solved by a new mobile app is, “We didn’t have a mobile app yet.” Instead, stores should think of a mobile app as a unique opportunity to provide new value to their customers. This will look different from retailer to retailer. A supermarket or convenience store chain might use an app to enhance its customer loyalty program. A furniture store might create an augmented reality app that allows customers to see how pieces would look in different colors or patterns.
Many retailers are also integrating multiple capabilities into their mobile apps, such as loyalty programs and payment features. By combining such features, a fast-food outlet may allow a customer not only to order ahead of time at a discount (skipping the line at the restaurant), but also to pay for the order at the location of the customer’s choosing — perhaps remotely, in the store or even at a drive-through window. Such a process can speed up transactions significantly, especially when replacing the need to use a chip-enabled credit card.
The retailers that win the coming years won’t be those that adopt technology the most broadly, but rather those that do so strategically. To do that, stores must make the customer experience a top priority for all their IT initiatives.