Timing is everything… the stars are aligned… it’s now or never… it’s a perfect storm. These are expressions I’m hearing from retailers in regards to empowering their store associates with mobile apps in 2017. The past 15 years have seen a huge investment in online shopping capabilities. It’s been the top area of focus for most technology investments in Retail. In fact, one can argue the investment pendulum has swung too far to online and away from the in-store shopping experience. Although there’s been some uptick in investment in omnichannel capabilities, in-store displays, RFID technology and analytics in the store, most in-store investments have not been transformational. Even more telling is the lack of investment in the store associate, the key role that can elevate a brand, enhance the in-store experience and differentiate a retailer from online pure plays. This role has essentially been neglected when compared to other roles in retail.
But that is all changing rapidly. There’s been an explosion of mobile solutions being deployed in stores from “line-busting” to “endless-aisle” to “clienteling”. Why now? Here are the top macro drivers creating the perfect storm, in a positive way, for mobile associate apps.
1. Mobility – Smartphones and tablets are ubiquitous. Using mobile apps is second nature to the younger generation. The power of these devices enables amazing capabilities.
2. Economics – The economics of implementing mobile retail solutions has come way down. Hardware costs are coming down. Purpose-built software is commercially off-the-shelf. The ROI is finally very compelling.
3. Retail systems – Modern eCommerce, CRM & OMS systems are in place to provide the must-have plumbing and access to data. Enterprise software vendors are providing web services to their eCommerce, OMS, CRM and POS systems to make integration to the data needed in the stores straight forward.
4. Cloud – Commercial cloud solutions bring down the time-to-market, up-front costs and ongoing operational costs of delivering and maintaining mobile in-store solutions.
5. Expectations – Customers expect online capabilities in the store. Employers expect workers to use mobile devices to do their jobs better. Best-in-class retailers are demonstrating the value of mobile-equipped workers. These reset expectations cannot be ignored.
6. Social Media & Messaging – Workers and customers are communicating using new tools like Facebook, Messenger, Snapchat, Instagram, WeChat, and others. These tools provide new ways for store associates and their customers to connect and build mutually beneficial relationships.
7. Amazon effect – Amazon is kicking everyone’s butt… but Retailers realize their brick & mortar stores can offer many things that an online site cannot. The personalized service experience in the store, the ability to touch and feel products, the immediacy of getting the product, and the joy of a great in-store brand experience are all reasons consumers will leave their house and shop in stores. Retailers understand there’s a way to beat Amazon… and their stores and sales associates are the key.
The bottom line, 2017 will be the year of the mobile-empowered store associate. Apple, Lowes, Nordstrom, Bonobos and others have proven that putting a mobile device in their in-store associates hands along with a few killer apps will drive sales, improve service and build relationships with customers. Others are following fast. With new robust mobile-first, cloud-based out-of-the-box solutions available for the store from providers like Tulip Retail and the new economics of deploying these solutions, other retailers will be able to leapfrog to a best-in-class, associate-to-customer shopping experience.