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We, as a consumer society, are increasingly becoming “mail-order,” or more precisely, online patrons. Online (and Mobile Friendly) mega-sites such as Amazon, Ebay, Overstock.com, and many more specialty retailers are putting increasing pressure on traditional brick and mortar shops. Certainly as all of the successful online retail sites offer mobile-friendly websites all the way to advanced apps and mobile-based customer outreach, using multiple channels, mobile shopping is quickly gaining as the preferred method to buy online.

However, as many big-box retailers have discovered, their brick & mortar locations are becoming mere showrooms for shoppers who come to look at their inventory, then buy it online for less. Retailer Best Buy, has begun to take steps to attempt to remedy this situation. In fact, their efforts have been chronicled by numerous outlets: best-buy-logo

There are many other issues regarding Best Buy and similar stores. But, in today’s society, there is lesser of a need to visit brick & mortar stores, as virtually anything can be acquired online. Nevertheless, can mobile help traditional retail fight back against showroom syndorm? Can it help get consumers back in stores? I certainly think so. As we are so fond of saying these days: “There’s an app for that!”

We all have heard of location-enabled apps such as Foursquare, Groupon, and Yelp. Checking in, reviewing businesses, earning badges, points, and discounts are all common mobile-centric ways to bring people into brick and mortar retailers (or at least near them). And it is a start. But businesses have to offer more incentives and service to get consumers into the stores and buying.

A more recent entry to the mobile incentive field, Shopkick has come to the scene and enables you to “treat yourself while shopping” by visiting stores, scanning barcodes and buying items from participating retailers. And Shopkick is amassing quite a cache of retail partners: Macy’s, Target, Exxon, Old Navy, and yes, Best Buy too, as well as many more including entire malls and retail centers. Shopkick uses innovative technology to get you inside the store. You just can’t “check-in” outside the store.

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Shopkick states: “The shopkick app detects a signal (My note: this is actually an ultrasound beacon that we can’t hear, but our mobile devices can via the microphone) emitted from a small device about the size of a brick located in each participating store; the signal is picked up by a shopper’s smartphone when the app is open. Shopkick then delivers kicks to the consumer’s account, rewards points that can be collected and redeemed at all participating locations or for gift cards, movie tickets and other items.

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In addition to getting kicks for walking in to a store, consumers can get rewards for doing such things as scanning bar codes on posters in dressing rooms or on items, and now, for paying with a linked credit card (including their most recent partner MasterCard).”

Technology-wise, Shopkick makes good use of both Push notifications to alert Shopkick app users of new features and specials and A2P SMS to communicate with its users and, as well as P2P SMS to help acquire more users.

Well-informed brick & mortar retailers would do well to leverage as many Foursquare/Yelp/Shopkick capabilities as possible, as this will bring consumers to their locations. Moreover, as we all know, if we can get them in the store, we can also overwhelm them with great customer service.

When speaking of customer service, let’s talk about what one of the pinnacles of customer service – Neiman Marcus – has done. First off, Neiman Marcus is famous for their high level of personalized one-on-one customer service. Yes, they are a luxury retailer, but their customers demand it. There are many famous stories about how Neiman Marcus has come through in extremely unusual situations for both big-spending and small-spending customers alike.

Earlier this year, Neimans gave all of their on-floor sales associates iPhones and made sure they all learned to use them. Now your Neimans shopper will send you a picture of those newly arrived Manolo Blahniks or that Armani suit directly to your mobile device (e.g. via MMS) – in addition to the less-obtrusive text messages (P2P SMS). In fact, Neimans recently reported that its associates sent or received over 200,000 messages in April of 2012 – and that’s all P2P messaging as each associate has his/her individual phone number. Further meaning, that is one to one communications – something Neimans excels in.

In addition to innovating usages of P2P message, Neimans has also launched their mobile CRM app from Signature Labs. The app provides capabilities for both the consumer and the sales associate. Currently, this is only deployed with a handful of stores, but it is expected to roll-out nationwide, sometime this year.

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Among significant functionality, along with a modern, engaging look and feel, the sales associate version of the app capability will notify your personal shopper as you are walking in the store.

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If you have “favorited” specific items, she might already have them available for you in your size, ready for you, when you walk in. Neiman Marcus has made a very strong investment in mobile and is using it in very engaging ways to enhance the customer engagement experience.

ShopKick points and the uber-customer-service methods from Neiman Marcus are both divergent, but very good examples of how retailers can learn to attract and keep consumers coming to their locations by leveraging “mobile” technology and channels. Some of these are simple. Equip salespeople with smartphones; train and encourage sales associates to use these tools to reach out to their customers using simple, reliable channels such as P2P SMS and MMS. Shopkick on the other hand, offers technology and incentives (e.g. kicks – a virtual currency) to get consumers into the store and further rewards for shopping and buying.

These methods can be applied for businesses large and small. You don’t have to be a big-box retailer or luxury flagship to offer mobile-enhanced customer service or at minimum, work with popular “check-in” apps to bring consumers to your business.

All of this, then prompts me to ask the question: “How is asking someone to ‘Like us on Facebook’ going to get them in the door?” Certainly consumers can comment and interact with a retailer – but will retailer’s Social Media outreach prompt consumers spend money in the store? I think if Facebook can further enhance the in-store shopping experience, then they themselves would benefit, as the highly popular Facebook would be another tool in the chest for brick & mortar retailers to fight back against the online world. On the other hand, if retailers offer consumers incentives, using popular apps, and then wow them with engaging mCRM, further enhancing good-ole-fashion personal service, then the traditional retailers will have a winning combination, in an increasingly mobile-centric society.

Back to our original example of Best Buy – having to fight that showroom syndrome. One of the remedies that Best Buy is trying to do is to become more like the Apple stores. They’ve picked a very good example to follow. Apple has certainly mastered the customer service aspect as well as the use of mobile as an engagement and incentive tool.

As we move to be even more reliant on our smart, mobile devices (remember, most of us still don’t pay for goods with our phones… yet – but that’s another story), we will see more traditional brick and mortar turn to mobile to literally pull themselves back from the brink.

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