Mobile Apps, Beacons and the Coming Retail Revival

Internet companies are showing no signs of slowing down when it comes to innovation, specifically in the area of physical retail.

Smartphones and tablets are the new darlings of e-commerce companies, and they now are being used to provide immersive and entertaining shopping experiences. Many of the characteristics of online retail shopping are being replicated in the physical shopping aisle. Brands that are able to create retail experiences that are digitally savvy will keep the brick-and-mortar model alive and running.

For retailers that are capitalizing on technology trends to increase interest in window shopping and physical browsing, there is significant opportunity on the horizon for the traditional retail location.

Making Up Lost Ground

Retailers for years have struggled to offset the loss in foot traffic attributed to e-commerce sales. Best Buy, Staples and RadioShack, former titans of retail, are drastically reducing their store locations or already have. RadioShack announced it was shuttering half of its stores in early 2014.

To counter the struggles facing brick-and-mortar locations, many brands are looking toward mobile. With shoppers increasingly consulting their smartphones in physical locations, mobile has emerged as an effective channel for augmenting the real world shopping experience.

Companion apps, in-store mapping services, and Bluetooth Low Energy beacons for mobile tracking are some of the latest tools to replicate online experiences in the physical world. Consumers are becoming accustomed to having their online activities monitored so they can receive personalized recommendations. Now physical retail stores are becoming much more tech-savvy as well.

Entire companies have sprouted up to deliver high-tech solutions for retailers. Companies are offering in-store mapping services as well as mobile app offerings designed to accompany shoppers while they browse.

Analytics software that specializes in tracking of browsing habits in a physical setting is also available for retailers. Just as mouse-tracking software can show how users navigate websites with their cursors, software for on-premises use can track how visitors browse aisles and interact with displays to identify trends.

By using these services in parallel, retailers can not only deliver offers to mobile users who have downloaded their app, but also accurately track the effectiveness of their offers and tweak them based on their findings.

A Balancing Act

Strategy is crucial when it comes to delivering mobile offers or tracking shoppers’ mobile device signals. In a Post-Snowden world, security and privacy are ingrained in the public lexicon, and consumers are more aware of marketers seeking their data than ever before.

To avoid negative reactions and poor perceptions toward a brand, business leaders and technology teams must focus on providing serious value for customers. They also must clearly communicate the tracking and analysis occurring in-store. When it comes to personal data, transparency by the party that accesses it is central to positive perception by customers.

Mobile development teams and marketing decision makers alike must put forth due diligence when it comes to communicating to consumers regarding their personal information. Adequate terms of use, as well as bolstered security, are crucial for instilling confidence and driving adoption.

If and when the technical aspects of an in-store mobile campaign are outlined, a brand should focus on delivering valuable content and experiences. Without a well designed app delivering useful offers and coupons, customers will oppose access to their private data. In one experimental rollout, in-store mobile tracking spooked some customers.

Some retailers are offering cash and prepaid gift cards for consumers who opt in for tracking. While not every user who downloads a brand’s mobile app should be forced to participate, offering an incentive to sign up can help increase adoption from shoppers.

Mobile First Mentality

Many brands are keen to revamp their websites and mobile apps with increasing functionality, but retailers with investments in physical stores should focus those efforts offline as well. The main reason customers flock to e-commerce giants to shop has everything to do with the experience.

In order to attract foot traffic to brick-and-mortar locations in a digital age, retailers must provide an experience that seamlessly bridges the gap between browsing on a touchscreen and strolling through aisles with a smartphone.

Himanshu Sareen is CEO of Icreon.

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