Smartphones are key to the next chapter of retail success. This is essential to recognize since it is becoming the standard tool shoppers use for communicating with sales associates.
The retail industry is struggling to keep pace with online giants like Amazon, whose virtually unlimited inventory and aggressive pricing is complemented by rapid delivery services like Prime and Dash. This points to a trifecta of price, selection, and convenience that allows them to dominate the hearts and minds of consumers at the expense of smaller retailers.
The radical changes needed in retail are now being driven by mobile. It is not just the technology that makes it work. Through the smartphone, personal relationships are becoming the central components in the commerce equation.
From a numbers perspective, the changes started in 2014 when traffic patterns at ecommerce websites jumped from 10 percent of users connecting through mobile in the first quarter of 2014 to over 60 percent by the end of that year. Initially, two-thirds of the mobile traffic were from people shopping on tablets, but by December, two-thirds of buyers were using smartphones.
Everyone has a Smartphone
People now have smartphones with them all the time – it’s the first thing they see in the morning and the last thing they touch at night. This means shoppers, and it also means sales associates. This allows retailers to embrace something that customers and associates have been doing for a long time – enjoying special relationships that go far beyond what an online-only merchant or its call center could do.
In-store employees are tech-savvy, and they frequently use their smartphones to do business. They text their customers, and that is happening outside of the retail systems, but they are doing it already. They are texting them things like “I just received a shipment of a popular new handbag, and I put one aside for you. If you can come here in the next few hours, if you want it, it’s yours.”
This type of intimate interaction can now be done through native mobile apps. It allows associates to carry just one device, which by default has to be their personal device connected to the store’s Wi-Fi-based ecommerce system, and without the excessive demands and distractions of logins and passwords. Shoppers can enjoy interaction and communication paired with personalized push notifications and one-touch payment systems like Apple Pay.
Every transaction enables retailers to collect vital data about each customer, setting the stage for further marketing outreach. It also allows customers to be greeted by name and served by their favorite sales associate, or the next available associate who can get up to speed quickly by accessing the customer’s data and preferences in real time.
Even returns and exchanges, long seen as the dreaded elements of retail, play a part in collecting data for long-term relationships between brands and individual customers.
A New Era Demands New Technology Management
This new era for commerce and retail computing removes the need to shop from a desktop. The fast pace and mobility of mobile commerce provides new opportunities for both shoppers and stores, much of which happens on the fly.
These innovations demand changes within brands’ internal management systems, particularly regarding who manages the technology. Many retailers assign their ecommerce group to run mobile commerce because the mobile experience appears to be a subset of ecommerce.
However, the most successful organizations in mobile commerce are those where the head of digital reports directly to the CEO, and is responsible for both ecommerce and digital in-store experiences. This enables smoother operation of highly dynamic mobile retail platforms and frees brands from depending too heavily on their IT departments, whose core responsibilities may lie elsewhere.
The future consists of a blend of awareness and experimentation. This is a fast-changing business, and the development of smartphone-based shopping will be the most significant commerce development since the Internet itself.
Until a newer breakthrough technology comes along, like Google Glass-style contact lenses, smartphones will be the major driver of continued ecommerce growth and profitability.
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