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Tech Guest Viewpoint: Mobile In Retail: The New Normal


Two events converged by 2010 that fundamentally changed how consumers shop and how retailers sell.

The first was that the world was enmeshed in a deep recession triggered by the collapse of financial markets in 2008. The second was that the world was going through a refresh cycle for consumer mobile phones. What happened next rocked the retail industry.

Consumers started using their new “smart” mobile devices to find the best solutions for their lifestyle needs. Even if consumers intended to ultimately shop in a store, they could look via the Web for the best products, read reviews, get input from others via social networks, compare product information, and find the best price and availability for the chosen solution. “Omnichannel retailing” was born.

Since those times, many things have changed. National economies have pulled out of recession, and consumers have more disposable income and are more confident. However, consumers have retained the frugal habits learned in the depths of the Great Recession, and are much more demanding and less loyal than ever before. And the adoption rate of consumer technologies is accelerating, not slowing down.

The question that RSR’s most recent benchmark study on the impact of mobile in retail, “2016 Mobile In Retail: The New Normal,” sought to answer was whether retailers and consumers are finally aligned, re. the value of mobile technologies as an important component of the shopping experience?

The benchmark study, conducted via an online survey from November 2015 through February 2016, revealed that there’s a growing acceptance among retailers that consumers routinely use their mobile devices both before and during their visits to the store.

For example, in RSR’s 2015 study, only 41% of retailers believed that consumers were using “smart” mobile devices to make better purchase decisions; in the 2016 study, that number had jumped to 73%.

But while publicly available consumer studies consistently indicate that shoppers most frequently use their mobile devices to check price comparisons, retailers in the RSR study believe that consumers most frequently use their mobile devices to search for product descriptive information.

In fact, when asked what the most important features a mobile offering should include, less than one-half of retailers in the 2016 study chose “price comparisons”. Clearly, retailers and consumers are not quite in sync.

Nonetheless, virtually all retailers are now convinced that consumers expect to use mobile as part of their shopping experience, and that they must respond (94% in 2016, compared to 69% in RSR’s 2014 study on mobile). But in addition to pressure from consumers, nearly one-half of retailers have grown concerned that their competition has gotten the jump on them (48% in 2016, compared to only 22% in RSR’s 2014 study).

As RSR has found in virtually every one of its benchmarks since 2007, over-performers (“Retail Winners”) take a different approach. Most importantly, Winners feel much more strongly than their lesser performing peers that mobile must be part of a consistent and seamless shopping experience. Winners are also more interested than lesser-performing retailers in driving deeper consumer engagement through personalized offers via mobile and seek to observe and analyze shopper behaviors via the mobile app or site.

Retailers’ interest in enabling the consumer shopping experience with mobile hasn’t necessarily translated into mobile assisted selling tools for store employees, however. In fact, interest in assisted selling technologies dropped almost 30% from RSR’s 2015 study. In its place, retailers have shifted their focus towards giving employees access to work schedules, time-off and vacation requests, and similar administrative functions.

When it comes to the technology to support mobile, few retailers are satisfied with what they have in place today (Winners are more satisfied than average and under-performers). Interestingly, most retailers are less concerned than in the 2015 study that budget can be made available to implement both consumer facing and employee mobile capabilities.

Instead, the most frequently cited barrier to progress is in freeing up or finding sufficient IT resources to manage all the available opportunities. Regardless, virtually all the infrastructural technologies needed to support a mobile capability (content management, mobile provisioning, downloadable apps, NFC capabilities in the store, etc.) are all rising in importance to retailers. RSR concludes from these findings that a technology refresh is “around the corner” for many retailers.

Brian Kilcourse is senior partner at RSR Research.

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