When you really think about it, mobile technology has transformed just about every facet of our lives. It has changed the way we communicate; when and how we access information; and how, when and where we shop. With the vast number of mobile applications now available on any platform, today’s consumers can have information their way, wherever they are.
Nowhere have the implications of the mobility revolution been felt more than in the retail arena. It’s estimated that mobile shopping could total $120 billion by the year 2015. According to Gartner’s “Cool Vendors in Retail 2011” report, big retailers are continuing to focus on investments that enhance their ability to support a cross-channel selling environment. The combination of an innovative software application paired with more mature technologies, such as touchscreen-based kiosks and real-time analytics, is creating new ways to engage with increasingly connected shoppers.
That’s good, because today’s shoppers are smart and empowered; they not only expect more from the environment and customer service provided, but will harness the full power of their mobile capabilities to share that experience ― the good, bad and ugly. Today, winning the loyalty of multichannel, brand-neutral and value-driven customers takes more than just a good deal.
How is mobility affecting retail operations and the customers they serve? The latest installment of Motorola’s annual Holiday Shopping Survey reveals some interesting insights. It found that 75% of retail associates and managers feel they provide a better in-store customer experience when equipped with the latest mobile technologies. Shoppers echoed a similar sentiment: 67% of surveyed shoppers reported heightened satisfaction with retailers where in-store associates utilized the latest technologies to assist in their shopping experience.
While shopper activity and spend remains higher in store than online, retailers need to continue to address the needs of the omnichannel shopper. According to the survey, the vast majority of shoppers reported that self-help technologies improved their shopping experience: 83% cited using a price checker. The use of self-checkout payment lanes (65%) and information kiosks (59%) also were mentioned frequently. Online purchases swelled by more than 18% in 2011 compared to 2010, while 63% of surveyed shoppers with smartphones downloaded some type of shopping application.
The bottom line? Connectivity matters. But providing it poses unique challenges for retail IT. Will you be able to manage a growing proliferation of mobile devices and network appliances efficiently? Can you keep network performance reliable while meeting requests from marketing and operations to support customer engagement initiatives? Does your network give you the visibility you need to make the right decision? Can the network identify who is connected, what they are doing on your network and which devices are they using? Can the network alert you when one of your loyal customers is within the proximity of your store and help you drive location-based services? Do you get a rich set of guest analytics on your network?
In pursuit of building a better, more engaging relationship with customers, and empowering their employees, progressive retailers are fully embracing technologies that help them answer these questions affirmatively. With retail sales continuing to struggle across the industry, infrastructure investments are being weighed carefully by all. The good news is that new technologies are allowing retailers to get more capacity, control and productivity, for less. Retailers have to steer toward vendors who have the capability to deliver solutions that help them build this next generation network that enables a richer set of services.
A Smarter Architecture
The key to a positive in-store experience is defined by the reliable connectivity retailers deliver to associates and customers, as well as the applications that come with it. Advanced wireless technology provides the flexibility to transform the way retailers do business and build new levels of customer loyalty ― if they do it right. The network needs to deliver a rich, quality experience to the users, regardless of the application, device and location within the store.
Ensuring the network can accommodate increasing wireless access and still deliver reliable coverage and performance takes planning. As the use of wireless devices and applications grow, so does security, reliability and capacity challenges. How retailers design and deploy their network is key to the performance of all network devices and applications. Scalability is another key consideration, as allowing consumers onto the retail store network brings some unpredictability in capacity demand. The solution needs to provide cost-effective scalability by delivering intelligence at the edge to optimally route traffic and minimize network bandwidth consumption. Finally, the solution needs to deliver a rich set of management and troubleshooting capabilities to enable IT to manage and operate a large, geographically distributed enterprise network.
Today there is advanced technology available to help you build a next-generation network that delivers a rich, quality experience to retail IT and end users alike. For instance, there are Integrated Services Platforms that deliver the convergence of wired, wireless and applications at the retail store. This technology allows you to take advantage of new, more complex and highly integrated customer loyalty, employee productivity, as well as video and Wi-Fi voice applications ― providing better engagement across the board. As a result, you can deliver the applications that drive the shopping behaviors you want while building the loyalty and personalized experience that keeps your customers coming back.
Increasing Productivity And Engagement
Consider the business impact of being able to identify loyal customers when they come to the store or are in the proximity, and immediately push an instant discount to their phones for one of their favorite or frequently purchased products. Or enabling an associate to use a mobile computer to control and view in-store digital video cameras for security, merchandising and training purposes. Or the ability to assign employees to specific single-mode handset talk groups, providing role-based access to applications, so they can respond immediately to customer requests or issues. With the right IT infrastructure investment you can achieve all of this and more, with less equipment, cost and personnel.
IT has a stake in optimizing employee productivity while identifying ways to streamline the overall IT cost structure. Integrated Services Platforms do both by providing all the services needed in-store ― access to mobile voice, data and video ― while lowering Capex and Opex costs. How? By delivering a scalable, flexible platform that requires less equipment and resources to manage.
Winning Connected Customers
In an uncertain and fluctuating global economy, with customers armed with smartphones and network access, retailers of all sizes and types must meet current connectivity challenges head-on to not only thrive, but merely survive. Network investments should support key business priorities, such as improving efficiency and productivity, reducing operating costs, and improving customer service. These investments also must deliver the intelligence to segment network traffic automatically and immediately identify and reach current and potential customers with the information they need to buy now.
Strengthen your competitive advantage by building a secure, flexible wireless network to engage customers in dynamic new ways. Empower your mobile workers and enable real-time visibility of your assets and operations. If you don’t, your competitors will. The good news? Today, that robust network requires less equipment and is easier to deploy than ever. Your capacity, productivity and connectivity will improve. Customers will notice ― and tell others. How much is loyalty worth to your business?
About the Author:
Rad Sethuraman is Senior Director of Product Management at Motorola Solutions. He leads product management for a variety of wireless LAN and networking solutions, including the Enterprise WLAN, TEAM Voice and Applications product lines. For more information, please visit motorolasolutions.com.