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How Mobile Technology Will Change the Retail Store

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The 2012 holiday shopping season and Retail’s BIG Show are behind us, and both events made it abundantly clear how mobile technology is changing the way retail customers shop.

Few technology trends have been more widely heralded, and few have arrived faster.

You’ve no doubt seen plenty of data on the fast-growing percentage of consumers who have been using their smartphone or tablet to shop in bricks-and-mortar stores. It’s less clear how these trends in consumer shopping habits and expectations, driven by mobile technology, will alter the nature of shopping and of stores. But I believe big changes are inevitable, and they will come fast.

Combating showrooming
This is a timely and important topic. Survey data from RSR Research and other sources suggest that the pace of adoption for most retailers lags behind the expectations of their customers. In May 2012, RSR reported that 58 percent of the North American retailers it surveyed do not provide wireless technology for customers or store associates to use in their stores. How, then, will they adapt to fast-changing trends in mobile communications?

A growing number of shoppers are using smartphones to check for better prices from online sources — in other words, showrooming. They may also check social networks, look for product reviews or seek detailed product information online. Showrooming is most common for electronics and apparel merchandise, though it also affects other categories. The influence of showrooming appears likely to continue growing, because it’s most popular among Millennials — the largest age cohort in North America after Baby Boomers.

Everyone seems to have an opinion about how to reduce the negative effects of showrooming. Some retailers have said they welcome the trend, though they may be “whistling past the graveyard” for the benefit of investors and industry analysts.

Provide unique value
The best suggestions I’ve heard for adapting to the changes wrought by mobile technology boil down to a simple idea: Retailers must find ways for their stores to provide unique value to customers. For some retailers, this will mean using analytics and customer relationship management systems to make sure they offer individualized value through loyalty programs and in-store offers. For others, it will mean developing more brands for which customers can’t make direct price comparisons.

It will pay for most retailers to create a more emotionally satisfying in-store experience — the kind customers can’t get online. Some retailers will develop more sophisticated visual displays and cultivate elements of theater that engage all five senses.

For some lines of retail business, store associates should be more readily available, better informed and well-equipped to provide fast access to detailed product information through kiosks or handheld devices. Many retailers will benefit from equipping their stores with technologies that can improve customer convenience, such as wireless infrastructure and mobile or POS systems and cardless, cashless payment processing.

With wireless infrastructure in place, retailers can offer personalized coupons to individual shoppers who connect to a store’s Wi-Fi system. Grocers and other retailers who carry many thousands of items can also provide wireless directories to help shoppers search for products in big stores.

More opportunity than burden
Not all retailers will feel the same pressure to change. Customers naturally expect more and better service from those who sell more expensive and more complex merchandise.

On balance, I believe the coming changes will present all retailers with more opportunity than burden. And the biggest opportunity will be for the most agile. Whitepapers offering additional practical ideas on the topic are available at or on our blog at