Retail is more competitive than ever before. Empowered by mobile devices, shoppers can research, compare prices and buy online from a competitor at the touch of a button. To compete, physical stores need to offer a rich, unique experience that will engage shoppers and entice them to buy.
“Physical stores face a lot of competition, particularly from online retailers,” says Luke Shave, senior global marketing manager, Microsoft Dynamics for Retail. “But retailers are fighting back now to get people into the store and to get them to purchase once they’re in there. It’s not just a comparison between the online and in-store world: there’s a better-together story that retailers are embracing through services like click-and-collect and a vast range of innovative applications.”
To achieve this, retailers are looking at ways to weave the convenience and rich information that are typically associated with online retail into the fabric of the store – and mobile devices are providing the key. “Deloitte predicts that by 2016 in the UK alone, 15-18% of in-store sales (£35-43 billion in revenue) will be smartphone influenced,” observes Shave. “The question is how to harness that power in the store.”
“The mobile device can easily become the bridge between the online and physical store,” says Marty Ramos, director for worldwide retail, consumer products and services at Microsoft. “It can make the in-store shopping experience much more personal and relevant while engaging the customer with predictive lists, personal pricing, location-aware offers, purchasing advice and a social window to the opinions of their friends and family. Technologies like near-field communication (NFC) tags can transform the way customers experience the products. Shoppers can tap the shelf label to access product information, personal pricing or videos. This can also enable more baskets, with customers tapping a tag to ‘load it for me’ or arrange home delivery so they don’t have to drag bulky products around the store. By bringing these capabilities together to enhance the physical store, retailers can offer a rich, differentiating experience.”
It’s an experience that empowers store staff by providing the mobility and information they need to deliver personalised service when and where it counts. “Being able to analyse data and serve it up in a usable fashion is key to driving insight and being able to act on it,” says Shave. “For example, with a clienteling app on a mobile device, store workers can look at the customer’s recent purchases and history, and quickly identify products to suggest based on the shopper’s preferences and price point. Retailers can also use cameras and sensors that monitor traffic flow, queues and consumer behaviour, and shelving that monitors stock levels. These technologies provide an opportunity to leverage big data and make changes to the store that optimise the customer experience.”
Microsoft and its partners are providing the technology and expertise to shape the store of the future. “It’s all about embracing the customer’s mobile device as an integral part of the shopping experience,” says Ramos. “A retailer’s application must be so good that when a customer thinks about shopping in their store, they just want to use it – it should be that valuable, that indispensable. The customer’s phone becomes their personal window into the retail store and a personal assistant whenever they’re browsing or shopping.
“Microsoft provides an end-to-end environment that enables an amazing breadth of solutions to make the shopping experience anything from reserved to wild,” Ramos continues. “From handhelds to tablets, mobile to stationary POS, video analytics to Kinect technology, store-based to cloud-based, this is a platform for retail innovation that ensures a manageable, fully adaptable and cost-effective store environment.”
Looking ahead, Ramos predicts that retailers will continue to focus on full service, with online shopping via click-and-collect and home delivery simply becoming delivery options. “Customers will first shop in a store using their device to order their ‘replenishables’, then visit the store to pick out the fun stuff,” he says. “Before leaving, they’ll pick up their online order and be done. Shopping becomes a hybrid experience, merging the best of online shopping and the physical store.”
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