Retail Technology

How is the smartphone transforming brick and mortar retail?

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When we think about how smartphones have changed the retail landscape, it often revolves around how e-commerce is banishing traditional brick-and-mortar establishments to obsolescence. At least, that’s what you would gather from sensational news reports about the current mall crisis in the US and the shutdown of several local stores in Singapore such as furniture store, iwannagohome and fashion brand, Raoul.

Here’s a story that’s less newsworthy, but equally true.

Rather than being the harbinger of doom and gloom of physical retailers, the smartphone also has enormous potential to transform physical retail for the better. The smartphone has made shopping a breeze with apps for fashion, groceries, electronics and food, with the likes of Zalora, Lazada, Redmart and Honestbee.

If implemented effectively as part of an omnichannel marketing strategy, smartphones could somewhat ironically be the key to survival for physical retail outlets.

For the uninitiated, the idea of omnichannel marketing is simple. Brands need to provide customers with a seamless experience, regardless of channel or device. Whether it’s in-store, online, via social media or through a smartphone app, the consumer’s experience should be consistent and complementary.

A one-size fits all approach does not work though, as shoppers behave differently by country. That’s why it’s essential for retailers to have market research intelligence on shopper needs and behavior, to tailor retail strategies for the local market.

Smartphones have enhanced our lives

In our 2016 Connected Consumers Report, we referred to the smartphone as the ‘hub of the consumer’s life’ – a nexus where their offline lives meet their digital ones.

Smartphones are the top choice for online shopping (it used to be the desktop) as they give shoppers numerous benefits and convenience. Our research shows that 45% of all shopping is influenced by mobile, and without having to enter the physical stores, shoppers can avoid queues, order ahead and enjoy customized offers.

Smartphones are also beneficial for e-commerce sites that want to move offline, for example Amazon – which has recently been making headlines for opening bookstores and grocery stores. Amazon has been using mobile technology to track customer preferences and sales, and enabling shoppers to grab groceries and walk out of the store as the order gets posted to the shopper’s Amazon account later. Closer to Singapore, we’ve seen homegrown brands like Naiise, HipVan and Love Bonito extend their online presence offline in shopping malls. Naiise for example, offers self-collection services at its physical stores for online orders.

Discover how to conquer connected shoppers for retail success

The role of smartphones in consumer retail

In our global survey on consumers’ activities with mobile phones in stores, we found that globally, 40 percent of shoppers use their smartphones while in a physical store to compare prices and contact a friend for advice, while 23 percent and 22 percent buy products through an app or through a website respectively, proving that once customers step through the door, even more can be done to seal the deal.

Beauty retailer Sephora for example, has successfully used augmented reality and lip-mapping technology in it’s app – Sephora Virtual Artist, to instantly and effortlessly help users figure out which of 3,000 lipsticks shades suits them most – a typically time consuming task.

Singapore shopping malls such as 313@Somerset and Parkway Parade have been experimenting with proximity marketing and mobile location analytics to reach out to shoppers who are surfing nearby, in a more targeted manner while showcasing offerings effectively. Through proximity alerts, patrons are able to enjoy exclusive deals, purchase and redeem their items immediately.

Winning consumers with customized mobile services

One of the most valuable resources of a smartphone is that it can provide retailers with information, which is key to capturing brand loyalty – a trait that today’s spoiled-for-choice Connected Consumers are lacking.

Brands can leverage customer data and point-of-sales (POS) analytics to offer more personalized services such as customized offers. In turn, this presents an opportunity to generate long-term relationships.

AsiaMalls for example, which owns six heartland malls, has seen success with AMperkz, its card-less loyalty program that enables personalized and location-based rewards and exclusive member offers.

Starbucks too, has seen massive success in the past six years by taking its popular loyalty program to the mobile platform, resulting in higher sales, customer loyalty and foot traffic. Last year, 25 percent of the chain’s transactions in the United States were from a smartphone.

Mobile Order & Pay, the company’s mobile order-ahead service has been lauded for providing convenience, but the code behind it – the data-driven algorithm to predict, personalize and recommend individual offerings at checkout shouldn’t be understated either as it’s a data-driven Artificial Intelligence (AI) algorithm based on consumers’ preferences and behavior; and behaviors that Starbucks is trying to drive.

In the age of the Connected Consumer, omnichannel shopping is becoming the new normal. Therefore, understanding the shopper’s purchase journey is crucial – and this is one of the toughest challenges faced by retailers today. However, armed with research insights on the route shoppers take when making a purchase, ways in which different online and offline touchpoints influence their purchase decision, and the type of media they are exposed to; retailers can optimize their omnichannel strategy.

Karthik Venkatakrishnan is Regional Director at GfK. To share your thoughts, please email karthik.venkatakrishnan@gfk.com or leave a comment below.

Discover how to conquer connected  shoppers for retail success

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