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How to combine mobile browsing with in-store shopping in a retail world

As brands strive to provide a seamless customer experience, mobile technology is going to play a huge role in bridging the gap. It enables customers to have online experiences while in store and provides brands with the potential to connect online browsers and customers with physical locations and behaviours.

With this in mind it’s imperative retailers understand the many opportunities mobile technology provides and are aware of the range of techniques currently being employed (trialled is probably a better word). Perhaps there’s an opportunity you haven’t considered? Throughout all of the below it’s important to note that there is no current industry-standard solution. Not only is it a complicated subject and dependent on the needs of each industry, but the techniques themselves are new and unproven.

Mobile – the brick that seals the gap between online and offline
For many years, retailers have run mobile, or online only, standalone campaigns but now each channel is simply part of the offering. Customers expect a single brand experience. Not one that differs by channel.
Our day-to-day lives are very much a digital experience and shopping should be no different. We live our lives across social media, are constantly accessing the internet for the latest news updates and pick up work and personal emails 24/7. Physical shopping should also have a digital aspect – it will happen with or without the retailers themselves and the early adopters will benefit ahead of the competition.
Mobile technology permeates society and it’s obvious that incorporating mobile usability into the physical shopping experience is the way to bridge the online and offline gap. How that’s done is the big question of the day. Here are a few examples:

Offering free Wi-Fi in store
A simple example to start with and one that will soon become the norm. Providing free Wi-Fi isn’t exactly revolutionary and in the next few years customers will come to expect it. However, what is interesting is how it’s implemented and how retailers utilise the insights they gather. Most places that offer free Wi-Fi require some sort of registration process however some ask for far too much information, and take too long. Equally, if you’re asking for too much information it will put people off. It’s about finding the right balance so that you still provide value while gathering useful insights. Brands with loyalty card schemes can offer customers quick logins and then link this information to their existing profiles.  It is an inevitable reality that customers will use the Wi-Fi you provide to price check and browse competitor sites while shopping in your store. This may anger you but it is totally unavoidable and should be embraced by making sure that not only are you competitive in terms of price but that your customer experience is as smooth and seamless as possible. Don’t give your customers a reason to shop elsewhere and if you have catered for their needs they will think positively about your brand and will be more likely to shop with you.

Paying online while in store
This tactic has been used by a number of restaurants but there’s no significant reason why it couldn’t be used elsewhere in retail. Enabling customers with the ability to pay themselves – not simply via a self-service till but via their phones offers the customer a significant level of flexibility. It removes the need for a checkout and reduces time spent sitting in queues. Of course there are security issues which need to be considered but as long as purchase can be quickly verified there’s no reason this approach cannot be widely adopted.

Loyalty apps linked to loyalty cards
While loyalty cards are a tried and tested method of combining online and offline customers by way of a single account it is possible to drive online customers to physical stores by offering discounts and special deals through loyalty apps. Loyalty apps linked to loyalty cards are an excellent way of combining online and offline experiences to provide relevant communications, offers and discounts.

Use online reviews in store
As anyone in marketing knows reviews are powerful, and if they work online, why not use them offline? Marketer should enable customers to quickly and easily access review sites on their mobiles while browsing the store so that they can see what other purchasers have said about the product and about the brand. In fact make it as easy as possible – provide links (QR codes)) on the actual products.
Likewise – don’t be afraid to print out top reviews or bits of reviews and put them up in store but provide links to the original reviews.

QR codes
As mentioned in the previous suggestion QR codes provide an easy way of linking physical products and places with information stored online. While QR codes (short for Quick Response) have been much maligned, when applied correctly they can work wonders.
The key is in making sure the content you are leading people to is worth the hassle of getting the phone out and taking a photo. First and foremost however, you should only use QR codes if there is a very strong internet connection (either provided by yourself or through 4G coverage) as otherwise you’re only going to annoy customers and make you look a bit amateur.

Linking shoppers to your CRM
One of the most exciting technological solutions out there at the moment is the ability to recognise a shopper and link them (or their device) to existing data in the retailer's CRM. This allows the retailer to potentially offer a truly personalised shopping experience to that customer. For example if you knew that a shopper had been previously browsing on the website for a particular item a member of staff could step in with an expert recommendation or a special offer. The key is to have an interaction with the staff that allows for what is called a device ID to be generated, or to collect some other information that could be matched to a profile. This could take place if the user opens an app or visits the website (regardless of whether or not they log in), or if there is a digital interaction - like scanning a QR code.

Mobile is the key but data remains the foundation
At the moment there is no standard method of utilising mobile in retail and in many cases the factors involved vary depending on the industry in question. Regardless of this, the ability to combine mobile and in-store, and the consequent huge step towards combining online and offline, will rely heavily on a brand’s ability to gather, manage and trust its own data.
In this modern data-driven world brands need to be able to sift through vast quantities of data in order to pull out actionable and accurate insights in order to create effective and relevant customer experiences.
However, when it comes to mobile, one size does not fit all. Retailers should take steps to understand their customers and how they shop within specific product categories. Based on those insights, retailers can develop appropriate mobile capabilities to support the needs of a smartphone-enabled shopper before, during, and after the shopping experience.

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