By Nikki Baird, Managing Partner, RSR Research
Editor’s Note: The following article is an excerpt from one of RetailWire’s recent online discussions. Each business morning on RetailWire.com, retail industry execs get plugged in to the latest news and issues with key insights from a “BrainTrust” panel of retail industry experts. Through a special arrangement, presented on RetailWire for discussion is a summary of an article from Retail Paradox, Retail Systems Research’s weekly analysis on emerging issues facing retailers.
Store operations have rarely taken the time to understand e-commerce — the technology or the channel — a group of six chief information officers (CIOs) from an array of retail verticals told me at a round table discussion at RIS News‘ Executive Summit event. And so mobile is yet another development in an area of poor understanding,
What’s different about mobile vs. online retail is the visibility that stores have into the effect mobile has on shopping behavior. Online shopping was an at-home activity, so it had little direct effect on store operations. Mobile, on the other hand, is often an at-the-shelf activity, and front line employees find themselves dealing with a whole new set of questions from better informed customers.
Unfortunately for the CIOs at the table, the discussion with store operations has revolved around a fear reaction — a “Can we wrap our stores in tin foil” kind of discussion. So, given that stores’ response to mobile right now is to basically freak out over consumers using their phones to price compare at the shelf, what is the current thinking on the role of mobile in stores?
CIOs apparently have more imagination than their store operations counterparts. This is where the discussion turned in a completely new and positive direction. The consensus was that kiosks are simply too expensive and need to be replaced. Retailers are thinking about mobile to replace the kiosk as a customer service tool or some kind of customer mobile concierge. But, back in the land of practicality, what most of the CIOs at the table are currently striving for is parity. They want to make sure employees are at least even with what customers have and know when they walk in a store.
At the same time, the retailers at the table were also very concerned with how to manage the relevancy that a mobile in-store experience can provide. Yes, they want increased relevancy and see mobile as a way to provide all the mass elements of a kiosk, personalized to the person holding the device. But, they are not sure how to increase in-store relevancy (especially with an employee as part of the service mix) without creeping out customers.
The BrainTrust panel generally agreed that mobile is a promising retail concept for various nuances of customer engagement. “This is a phenomenal opportunity and the potential applications are endless,” said Susan Rider, President of Rider & Associates. “For instance, a consumer can pick a color and size they are looking at and the application can direct them to the location of the options. The consumer can request accessories to go with a certain SKU, check inventory at other stores, etc.”
One panelist expressed concern for retailers’ need to communicate effectively and efficiently. “Consumers are overwhelmed at the moment and it is only getting worse,” said Mark Johnson, President & CEO of Loyalty 360. “Communication needs to be spot on and targeted more than ever in the past.”
Each retail expert panelist has seemed to at some point have experience firsthand the impact of mobile, and agree the potential is endless. “The future of retail is self-service, and mobile (a personal shopping assistant) will be at the heart of ‘serving yourself,’” said Herb Sorensen, Scientific Advisor at TNS Global Retail & Shopper Practice. “The programs and data that drive that ‘personal assistant,’ smartphone, will dominate the practice of retailing for years to come.
Right now, Amazon seems best positioned to drive that data-software solution, but it is way to early for a clear winner to emerge. It’s not clear what significant players even understand the stakes, but there have to be at least a few.”