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Creating Super Sellers

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Retailers have been eyeing mobile in retail for years. Now, advances in technology and new products on the market have helped expedite the process of getting more devices on the sales floor. According to a March article in Forbes, Best Buy was considering a plan to distribute iPads to each of its on-floor sales associates. In some Nordstrom stores, staff has been testing iPad mobile POS systems to help close sales more quickly.

“It is only in the last 18 months that the mobility on the sales floor has really taken off,” says Duncan Taylor, director of product management for retail software and solution provider Epicor. “Retailers are trying to stay ahead. Consumers already have mobility [via smartphones] and they want to make sure their associates can offer something above what the consumer can do.”

Boost capital on a budget
Not surprisingly, the iPad has become the primary platform for retailers and solution providers, as its popularity, stability and ease of use have made it the target device for many app developers. Sandeep Bhanote, CEO of next-generation mobile retail software provider Global Bay, says that when teamed with the right apps, the iPad gives staffers a tool to increase their effectiveness in everything from inventory management and training to customer service.

“The iPad is the natural device,” he says. “We haven’t chosen it, it’s just what people are buying and adapting. It’s a device that allows you to use your existing infrastructure to have mobile apps in the store.”

One of the most beneficial elements of using a tablet is that it allows the retailer to adapt the technology without a large investment. It essentially provides a way for retailers to boost their human capital on a budget without much training or hiring additional staff.

Most solutions allow the retailer to create a customized app that works in tandem with existing hardware and software. Apps can also be written and implemented quickly — sometimes in as little as a month, depending on the complexity. Just as they would design a website, retailers can work with a service provider to create an app that gives their associates exactly what they need to serve the customer.

“You no longer need a two-year project where you need to make a $3 million investment in hardware [and programming],” Bhanote says. “We are moving to a world where we have open standards and a mash-up of data.”

The devices are also relatively inexpensive. In the ’90s, some retailers offered kiosks to give customers another service option, but those machines could run upwards of $30,000. Chris Davey, worldwide head of commerce and innovation for marketing and technology services firm SapientNitro, says that stationary kiosks were seen as “save the sale” devices — when staff was overwhelmed or an item wasn’t in stock, customers were directed to the kiosk to order an item. Now those capabilities are shifting towards mobile, customer-accessible tablets that cost as little as $300.

Instant product information
Mobile solutions can not only save sales, they can provide a rich media experience that gives staff a strong selling and marketing tool. Providing instant access to product information and specs, a tablet can bring the store’s web experience straight into the store. Retailers can deploy apps that tap into their own websites or into brand websites to display photos, video, reviews and anything a customer could need to make a decision on the spot.

Many consumers are already shopping this way on their smartphones, but giving that power to associates lets them be proactive in presenting critical information and gives them a tool to preempt mobile comparison shopping. In many cases, this can prevent what would otherwise become a lost sale.

“If a customer is struggling between two products, the associate can break it down for a comparison with video, reviews and product specs,” Davey says. “Staff can use this experience to help with the selection and decision process.”

DecisionPoint Systems vice president of marketing Tom Barber says marketers now have a unique ability to put their vision of the product or customer experience face-to-face with the shopper. Mobile devices and applications can help staff increase up-selling and cross-selling opportunities, and increase the average hourly sales-per-selling-sq.-ft.

At a clothing retailer, an associate may be able to instantly match color patterns and outfit options on a tablet. An electronics customer can view a side-by-side comparison of product specifications. In either instance, it allows retailers to bring the register and workstation straight to the customer, dramatically reducing the time it takes to access information.

These capabilities can increase the average sale and basket size and, with many systems tied straight to a corporate website, allow for cross-channel selling on the sales floor. Because devices like the iPad can handle rich media, they also bring the entire web experience straight into the store and create a more seamless shopping experience across all channels.

Retailers are also beginning to use tablets and apps for training. Videos, photos, audio files and documents can all be put in the hands of an employee so they can learn on the floor. “I think they’re discovering that it’s easier to train associates with the devices and creates a more informed, better trained staff,” says Davey.

Assisted Selling at PacSun
Hip clothing retailer PacSun is currently putting iPads with custom-designed apps in the hands of staff to enhance in-store customer experience, capture lost sales and create upsell opportunities. In late August, the company deployed Global Bay’s iPad Retailing Solution in 300 PacSun stores nationwide, with plans to add another 100 stores by the end of the year.

The solution allows associates to use the iPad as a personalized selling tool to walk customers through different outfit combinations and suggest products based on their purchasing preferences. It also allows associates the opportunity to reduce lost sales by providing the ability to access inventory on the spot, rather than having to move to a workstation. Associates can also help fulfill orders across any channel and can take an order and ring up the customer via mobile POS capabilities.

Using the iPad in this way “ultimately increases multi-channel sales and units per transaction that makes the retailer successful,” says Sandeep Bhanote, CEO of Global Bay.

The PacSun iPad system also has QR codes integrated into the app that allow consumers to scan the codes on the iPad and have exclusive content delivered straight to their smartphones.

New Balance’s Improved Customer Experience
SapientNitro recently helped footwear apparel retailer New Balance build and implement an in-store mobile solution. The system included a half dozen iPads utilized throughout the 10,000-sq.-ft. store, with some fixed in stationary stands and others put into the hands of associates who roam about the space.

Chris Davey, worldwide head of commerce and innovation for Sapient Nitro, says the solution was designed to help customers get more information, provide a rich media experience and serve as an alternative ordering solution.

“Having devices fixed in kiosks and in the hands of staff increases effectiveness and those personal interactions,” he says. “But the biggest advantage is that it is used as a clienteling device, so associates can walk around and help during the shopping process.”

While the Retail App is designed to serve as a rich media dashboard for customers, the Sales Assisted App helps one associate do the work of two by accessing back-of-the-store inventory while still on the sales floor. It is also used to help educate and entertain customers by bringing the full New Balance web experience into the store.

The app has brand-unique customization and lets users view the entire product catalogue, check in-store inventory and order items online. It is currently in use at a number of locations, and will eventually be implemented in all New Balance-branded stores in the United States.

A Tool for Customer Credit Acquisition
Private-label credit cards have long been an important tool for retailers to increase sales and cart size.

As acquisitions are one of the most important and difficult parts of the branded card operation, retailers have often used generous on-the-spot discounts to obtain new accounts. Stand-alone desks or POS staff have usually been used to solicit new credit acquisitions, but Scott Gamble, vice president of digital solutions at Alliance Data, says tablet computers can dramatically increase staff effectiveness for credit card sign-ups.

Approximately 30 Alliance Data clients are using iPads to sign up customers for store-branded credit cards. Associates no longer have to stand around waiting for prospects to come by or waste valuable time at a table; they can now move about the store with a tablet computer and take applications on the spot.

“Store associates can walk around and interact with customers while they are out shopping instead of waiting [for them] to get to the register,” Gamble says. “It saves time and produces more acquisitions because the associates are mobile and faster.”

On-the-spot applications at the register can waste valuable time, create longer lines and lock up the workstations. Most importantly, they tie up staff that could otherwise be moving about the store. Apps tie directly back to the retail card’s site, which can process an application in as little as 15 seconds. And, because the acquisition process happens on the sales floor, customers are more likely to add to their basket, Gamble says.

“People typically don’t hold purchases [at the register] then go back and get more,” he says. “Mobile acquisitions impact shopping behavior by a double-digit percentage.”