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TechBytes: Three Ways Mobile Has Gone Mainstream in Retail


As recently as a year or two ago, “mobile retailing” was a major industry buzzword. Everyone was busy trying to figure out how to best “mobile-enable” their enterprise.

Well, as evidenced by the lack of hype about mobile retail at the recent NRF Conference, mobile retailing has gone from momentum to mainstream. While I described this mobile paradigm shift in my recent column about NRF technology trends, I did not get into the details of exactly how mobile has become a mainstream retail platform. Here are three important ways mobile has become an indispensable part of the everyday retail IT landscape.

1. Store Traffic Driver

It is probably no coincidence that mobile’s maturity into a mainstream retail IT platform has developed while retailers have become increasingly aware of the store’s continuing primacy as a driver of revenues. In the last couple of years, retailers have increasingly focused their customer engagement and promotional efforts on driving traffic to their stores.

There is no better store traffic driver than mobile. Using GPS tracking and identification (opt-in, of course), retailers can determine when customers are near a store and text time-and location-sensitive offers to convince them to come inside. Once inside, location-tracking devices such as beacons allow retailers to offer the same type of personalized, contextually relevant instant offers based on where customers are inside the store.

2. Digital Information Provider

Mobile technology also allows retailers to deliver customers digital information that would otherwise be unavailable. For example, retailers can (and do) place QR codes on signs, posters, billboards, etc. to extend the information and value provided by out-of-store promotional media.

Inside the store, retailers can provide customers digital content such as product videos, online reviews and virtual fitting room capabilities via mobile device. Retailers can also let customers check enterprise inventory for out-of-stock item or review their own purchase and loyalty history. Forward-thinking retailers are even adapting to the “showrooming” phenomenon by letting customers locate prices from competing chains using their mobile devices, and then matching them or offering other incentives to save the sale.

3. Infrastructure Cost Saver

As any retailer who has launched a “wireless” mobile technology effort knows, a lot of wiring and physical infrastructure is involved. However, once the investment in the underlying architecture is made, mobile technology saves retailers considerable amounts of money in several ways.

First, mobile retailing often uses customer devices as a contact point. And even when retailers provide their own tablets or other mobile devices, the investment is still far cheaper than what is required for kiosks, terminals or other fixed devices.

In addition, the self-service nature of mobile retailing means retailers can often reduce headcount of customer-facing employees, or at least cut back on scheduled work hours. Furthermore, the ability of customers to obtain instant inventory access with mobile devices can help retailers reduce the amount of merchandise they keep in stock. When a technology provides retailers the opportunity to both increase revenues and decrease costs, it will only stay in the realm of hype for so long.

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