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Shoppers with smartphones are leading the greatest change in retail since the adoption of the barcode, over 40 years ago. How will your business navigate the way in the new, uncharted territory created by this consumer-led sea-change? This overview will help you plot the transformational path
your business needs to succeed in mobile commerce and retail.

Consumers have more influence and impact on a retail brand than ever before. They are empowered by the smartphone, inexpensive data plans, the Internet, and social networks. Shoppers have unprecedented, instantaneous access to competitive pricing, reviews, advice, and product availability. The smartphone has given shoppers fingertip access to information that can either tarnish your brand or unearth new treasure. People use social networks that span the globe, and in milliseconds a consumer can sink your brand’s reputation or put wind in your sails and more cash in your sales. They are connected. Are you?

As a retailer or consumer-centric company, you’ve likely recognized your brand is not entirely under your control, but the customer experience you deliver can be. In the late 1990’s, e-commerce made the industry adapt to selling via new channels, but it led to silos and differing visions of how
best to connect with the shopper. Retailers that survived the financial downturn since 2008 got better operationally. As a result, most chose to deliver a better customer experience, with some achieving this by breaking down the silos to unite store point-of-sale and e-commerce processes.

Unfortunately, customers do not think in terms of channels, and most do not think about the shopping process. Retailers must. One approach you can use to map their journey, and improve your capabilities to satisfy your customers every step of the way is to use a methodology called design thinking to understand how shoppers connect with retailers. Taking this approach allows you to discover how people, processes, and systems can eliminate boundaries between the channels and improve your brand experience. This is key since the advent of mobility, mobile commerce, messaging and mobile payments can change how retailers connect with consumers, build loyalty, empower employees, and increase sales with lower risk.

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Leading retailers are starting to offer solutions that enable the curb-side pickup of grocery orders placed on a smartphone,as well as cross-channel activities that allow ‘click and collect’, enabling consumers to buy online and pick up in store.

Again, the customer doesn’t think in terms of modalities or channels. They naturally use their tablet, PC or mobile phone to research and select what they want to buy. They just know they want to order and pick it up later. They don’t think about how it happens – and they demand it to be seamless.
This ‘instant gratification’ is top of mind with Millennials, a customer segment of digital natives that have grown up with technology and the Internet.

Customers in this segment not only expect a good experience, they also care deeply about our planet and causes, and they are willing to volunteer personal information in exchange for value. Thus, in their dealings with retailers, they want timeliness, transparency, and expect retailers
to operate with as much ‘tech-savvy’ and openness as they do.

Reinventing Customer Loyalty

There is a resurgence of interest in customer loyalty, but it is being reinvented in the mobile world. Mobile allows consumers to download loyalty apps to their smartphone, replacing the plastic card they have in their wallet. Even your existing loyalty programs can benefit by adding this mobile component to extend your brand to the consumer’s phone, in place of their wallet.

But it’s not just an opportunity for retailers. Smart marketers in transportation, utilities and consumer products companies are exploring how they can deliver relevant, timely information, promotions, and special offers right to the consumers’ smartphone, at their request, using geo-location, purchase and payment history, and the consumer’s declared preferences and interests.

This isn’t about deploying simple loyalty software. Organizations are harnessing very advanced analytics and a learning engine designed to deliver value to the consumer, insight to the marketer — and mutual benefit.

Tapping the Touch Points

The use of gift cards are reaching new peaks, in part because they are a staple of holiday sales. Stores love the power of the gift card, and the sister concept of returns cards, where retailers can issue a plastic card as a credit in place of cash, is also gaining traction. Like loyalty cards, consumers are eager to clean their wallets of plastic cards and look to a day when they neither have to fish them out of their wallets, or know if they even have one on their person. Emerging mobile wallet technology also answers this requirement with convenience, allowing a retailer to deliver stored-value card capability on a smartphone, with the inherent security of the mobile network, and the ease of text messaging. Retailers are
using this approach to remind customers of prescription renewals, parcels for pickup, or promotions of interest.

Banks in the last decade have also embraced mobile. They use it to create better customer engagement supported by highly interactive, beautiful apps that allow customers to check their account balance, transaction history, and more. We envision retailer credit operations that will harness this as well, potentially combining it with other functionality in a branded app.

Retail Revolution

Consumers always have their mobile phones with them, especially while shopping. Although the showrooming trend of visiting a store to investigate a product before purchasing online continues, there is no reason retailers can’t turn this habit of researching products in-store into a new opportunity to connect with the consumer while store staff are at hand to help.

Of course, store staff need to be as empowered as the shopper has become. Many retailers have yet to map out a mobile strategy to engage and enable
their store team and the regional and district managers that support them.

Although the handheld barcode scanner we used to call an ‘inventory gun’ is still commonplace, best-run retailers are adopting solutions to equip and educate store staff to improve the service and advice they offer customers in the aisle. With a smartphone, tablet, or other handheld, there is no reason for staff to ever leave the customer’s side to get more information or ask a superior. Store staff can use their devices to check stock price, availability, and locations to ensure that the customer gets instant answers and instant gratification.

Managers can also use mobile to monitor store performance, key indicators and goals. Other solutions with mobile at the center give staff and managers guidance on fast-moving items that need to be reordered, with timely alerts, and all needed information on their tablet. This eliminates the drudgery of walking the aisles and counting product, and waiting to reorder until the day’s sales are done. It saves hundreds of hours in most chains, reduces inventory carried, and helps eliminate out-of-shelf and out-of-stock situations.

Real-time advantage

We are also seeing a revolution in POS. In some stores today you can use a mobile device to complete a transaction without queuing up at the checkout. Retailers using mobile POS and other in-store solutions are seeing higher customer and employee satisfaction. They are also able to maximize sales because mobile functionality provides real-time inventory information anywhere in the store. Thus retailers can meet shoppers’ needs and encourage sales because the visibility mobile provides shows and confirms products are in stock.

Mobile empowers consumers to shop on their terms. But mobility isn’t just about making life for the consumer better. It also equips employees — and the entire organization — to serve the customer better by streamlining processes, enabling new loyalty programs and ensuring that consumers get quick and helpful answers to their questions in real-time.

Empowered employees are also engaged employees, and that means greater productivity, pride in their work and improved retention. This has a profound impact on staff turnover. What’s more, a mobile strategy can even help retailers win the war for talent, ensuring that Millennials joining the business are much more excited to go to work and aren’t embarrassed by outdated current store technology.

Inevitably, the Information Technology team has to make it all work, and work well. Building a mobile optimized Website isn’t enough. You need to build a comprehensive mobile strategy that covers all aspects of your business – from warehouse, through the shop floor, to the hands for the consumer.

Free Guide

This article was originally published in the 2013 Mobile Commerce Guide | Engage
Customers & Build Loyalty in Developed and Emerging Markets

If you are attending Mobile Commerce World  June 24-26 in San Francisco, please visit SAP at booth #23 to receive a flash drive that contains the complete guide – more than 40 articles that will help you better understand the best mobile strategies to drive revenue, deploy cost saving solutions, create new revenue streams, and build loyalty through deeper customer engagement.

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3 Comments

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  1. Nixon Xavier

    Colin, Nice article. SAP got offering in all these areas and making the right focus will help. SAP Precision Marketing and SAP On-Shelf Availability are few of the solutions which can address this market segment.

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    1. Colin Haig Post author

      Agreed, plus the new Customer Loyalty mobile solutions, and partner solutions that help with in-store activity that works with both employee and consumer mobile devices. It’s evolving quickly!

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