Posted on 02/24/2016

Advancements in mobile technology have changed daily life, and retail is no exception. That doesn’t mean that all retailers have been quick to keep up with changing times, however. New research from CFI Group, and detailed by Integrated Retail Solutions, shows that only 27% of consumers have received in-store assistance from a retail associate utilizing mobile technology.

To illustrate just how much times have changed (and how quickly), McKinsey and Company reports that just six years ago almost two-thirds of all phone use was for talking; now that number is under 20%. Today phone usage is dedicated primarily to web-oriented activities, such as online shopping.

There are two main drivers for the widespread adoption of mobile devices as retail research tools. The first, quite simply, is information. With instant access to an ocean of pricing and product information, consumers are more empowered than ever to make purchasing decisions. Brick and mortar retailers are already struggling with “showrooming,” where consumers use their phone in the store to comparison shop with online retailers, only to leave the store and order the same product online for a cheaper price.

The second reason feeds off of the first. As consumers adopt their phone as their own personal shopping assistant, in-store retail associates become more withdrawn and disengaged. This leads to a vicious cycle of customers continuing to reference their mobile devices for help rather than retail associates, and associates continue to feel undermined in the presence of technology that can deliver such vast depths of knowledge instantaneously.

As consumers slowly move towards doing more of their shopping online, retailers must adapt to changing consumer preferences and patterns. Retailers need to match the technology that consumers are already bringing with them into the store. More than half of the key 18-to-44 demographic surveyed said that they’re “likely to favor a store with advanced mobile capabilities.”

There is a sense that many retailers may be reluctant to further empower consumers with more information, as more information typically means more comparison shopping. But savvy retailers have realized that consumers are demanding a level of integration of mobile tech with the kind of personal touch that only people can provide.

But equipping retail associates with the same tech that consumers are already dependent on is just one tactic for adapting to these changes. Another counter to this trend has been the emphasis on making coming into a brick-and-mortar store an “experience,” a welcoming and unique environment that can’t be replicated on a computer screen. Many retailers are choosing to undergo complete store redesigns that make the location a more dynamic and enticing place to visit, with automated checkout lines, updated layouts, and of course more ways for employees to meaningfully engage with customers.

Further research shows that continuing to train employees without the aid of mobile technology is a costly endeavor, given the high turnover rate for retail associates (67% on average). So the cost of training and equipping retail associates may soon be outpaced by the cost of doing nothing.

As the saying goes, you can’t put the (mobile) genie back in the bottle. Retailers need to be ready to adapt to current consumer trends by embracing mobile technology and integrating it into the in-store customer experience. This leads to higher employee and customer engagement that can strongly differentiate a retailer from its less progressive competitors.


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