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Is retail ignoring its customers?

Imagine a group of people in a public place. One person asks, “I need to make a call, and I forgot my phone at home. Can I borrow yours?” The phone is presented, password entered, and handed over. Observe the look of trepidation in the lender’s eyes. Their phone is in another person’s hands. What if the borrower walks away while talking? Or worse, what if they start thumbing through the apps, photos, or the notes on that device?

Such actions make a phone lender very, very nervous. There is a distinct feeling of being torn from a part of yourself when a phone leaves your side. It may feel worse, even, than losing it. At least a lost phone is protected by its passcode, and if needed, a remote kill command. But when a live, open phone is taken away from its owner, that owner feels unmistakable anguish. Your smartphone is your lifeblood these days.

Retailers must never lose sight of this anguish as it symbolizes the intimate relationship that consumers everywhere have with their phones. This has immediate and direct impact on the way they shop and how they build relationships with brands. As discussed in my new book, Makeover: How Mobile Flipped the Shopping Cart, the message to retailers is clear. For those who have been slow to embrace mobile commerce, or who continue to see mobile as a separate silo, it must be recognized that mobile is the building block of the next age of success, and brands that embrace mobile will thrive. 

When it comes to the relationship with consumers, brands need to remember that consumers live a completely mobile society. The centerpiece of their existence is no longer a street address, but a smartphone. Thus, all communication between a brand and its consumers must be possible via mobile. Last year, 79% of customers received personalized communication from the retailer after an online purchase, but only 1% of customers received communication from the retailer after an in-store purchase. The opportunity for more engagement is obvious. From initial promotions through in-store sales to returns and follow-up, everything that comes from the brand must adhere to an essential truth: it’s more than an individual sale. It’s a relationship. 

Uber is often used as an example when discussing the new mobile relationship, and with good reason considering it changed the world in a short few years.

Services like Uber, Lyft and Deliv are prime examples of how businesses can stay ahead of consumer expectations. These services have flipped expectations and now offer retailers new fulfillment options that will not only surprise and delight customers, but foster long-standing brand loyalty. In 2016, just 22% of retailers offered in-store pick-up options on their mobile app, and only 4% offered rapid delivery via the app using a ridesharing or delivery service.

Ridesharing services have taken advantage of new technology to create businesses built around dynamically matching drivers with customers anytime, anywhere. The popularity of the personalized ride reveals a key truth about success in any industry today. For those businesses worried about disruption and those newcomers wondering how to break through and thrive, companies like Uber and Lyft delivered the secret. The secret is mobile.

It is a difficult transition for many companies to make. Physicality has been the epicenter of commerce for centuries. But it is not too late for retailers to regain their position as the centerpiece of their customers’ lives. And the move to better mobile experiences does not drive consumers away from brick and mortar; in fact, it draws them in. Brands must recognize that the relationship begins and continues entirely through a smartphone. 

Consumers live completely mobile-centric lives. At home, at work, at the coffee shop, and at all stops in between, mobile devices are at their side. Yet, only 45% of retailers have an app, only half of those are shoppable apps, and none of the retailers’ native apps have learned consumer preferences to show more relevant products. What they overlook is that consumers who interact with a retailer online convert at a 20% higher rate.

Retailers are slowly beginning to recognize the need to transition into a mobile-first business, but they don’t know how, or where to start. To that end, brands and retailers should approach every decision and new feature from the point of view of the mobile-obsessed consumer. If they do, the industry can adapt and keep up with transforming demands.

This article originally appeared in Total Retail.

Stephan Schambach, Founder & CEO

Stephan is a serial entrepreneur with a proven track record of creating and growing successful tech companies in the United States and Europe. Under his leadership and vision, he brought Intershop and Demandware to IPO's with multi-billion dollar market caps. As Founder and Chief Executive Officer of NewStore, Stephan is setting out to change the market once again. This time by solving the omnichannel problem facing so many retailers and brands.

Topics: Retail, Clienteling, Mobile Commerce Technology

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