The mobilization of retail: How mobile devices are aiding brick and mortar sales associates - Retail Council of Canada
Canadian Retailer Magazine | Digital Retail & Technology

The mobilization of retail: How mobile devices are aiding brick and mortar sales associates

February 18, 2018
The mobilization of retail: How mobile devices are aiding brick and mortar sales associates

How the integration of mobile technologies can help create a more seamless and personalized experience for customers and merchants

BY SEAN C. TARRY

THERE was a time not long ago when some industry analysts were prophesizing a new age of retail, one that involved the death of brickand-mortar. Though it’s certainly true that e-commerce sales around the world continue to increase year over year, the notion that the physical side of the retail environment will ever disappear completely is a ludicrous one. People crave experiences. We want to be entertained, educated and stimulated.

Because of this, the brick-and-mortar retail location will always be a part of the retail mix. But, for the physical side of retail to flourish in this new digital age, and to continue meeting the needs of the customer and the business, something about the in-store experience needs to change. The service needs to be faster and more informed involving less friction. In short, the experience at many retail locations needs to be better. And thanks to the power of mobile technologies, elevating the experience is possible.

The sales associate in the store is often the first point of contact that a customer has with a brand in the physical space. The retail experience for that customer begins with the service that’s provided. It’s a touchpoint that, as Bill Zujewski, Vice President of Marketing for the cloud software company Tulip, says, has got to improve for retail brands to continue to succeed.

“In retail today, there’s something that you can call a digital divide between the customer walking into the store and the store associates,” he says. “The consumer walks in with their mobile device in hand, ready to access Amazon and other online resources. They’ve done their research already and are well-informed. And in most cases they’ve experienced online shopping. And when they walk in to the retail location, the store associate’s anchored at a front desk with a pen and paper and at times doesn’t even have access to the internet. That’s a divide that has to be eliminated in order for today’s associate to have the knowledgeable to be able to add value and provide a convenient experience.”

Mobilizing store associates

Tulip’s focus as a company is squarely on retail stores, specifically to develop mobile applications to be help retail associates, arming them with knowledge about the product and the store’s inventory, as well as an understanding of the customer that they’re serving. The apps also allow the associate to be able to check out a customer in the aisle, providing tools for the them to be able to communicate with the customer once they’ve left the store with follow-up emails and texts, too. The company works with three Canadian companies—Toys R Us/Babies R Us, Indigo and Frank & Oak—and work with a number of retail brands south of the border, including Saks Fifth Avenue, Kate Spade, Michael Kors and Chanel, to name a few.

“With this kind of technology,” says Zujewski, “it’s a better experience for the customer. The store associate isn’t chained to a desk front desk. Instead, they have a mobile phone in their hand and can access a customer’s account and past orders, and the store’s catalogue and inventory. It adds up to a rich in-store experience, driven by empowered store associates.”

By mobilizing the store associate, Zujewski points out that it enables them to provide great care and service for the customer that comes into the store. And, in many cases, he says that it’s logical that it all leads to increased sales.

“When your sales associates are paying attention to the customer and are able to assist them, providing specific knowledge about the product, the brand and the available inventory, it drives sales.”

He explains that mobile assisted associates typically enjoy higher conversion rates than those who aren’t armed with mobile devices. By leveraging the store’s endless aisle, if something’s out of stock, the associate can go online with the customer in the store, find their size and colour, and check them out right there, having the product shipped directly to their home. With a mobile device in hand that has the capability to accept payments, an associate can also help the customer bust lines and avoid lengthy waits at the cash.

In-hand mobile devices also allow for greater upselling opportunities. By accessing the customer’s file on the mobile device, they can see what they’ve already purchase, and some of the things that they might be interested in based on their history, informing the associate with a better understanding of what suggestions or recommendations to make.

In addition, these types of cloud-based software applications help drive repeat visits from customers through follow-up emails and texts.

“Our clienteling tools allow the associate who made the sale to follow-up with the customer once they’ve left the store, asking them how they like the product or to let them know about a promotion on a product that they might be interested in. Or a nice note can be sent to them on their birthday offering them a special discount. These tools allow the associate and the brand to creating relationships with customers to get them to come back in the store for another visit. We aren’t reinventing the personalized experience. We’re just adding technology to make it more effective and efficient.

Making the connection

However, in order for all of these mobile capabilities to come together for the retailer to provide a seamless in-store experience for the customer, systems need to be integrated and talking to each other. This is no small task for a retailer of any size. But Chase Merchant Services can help.

“Being a good partner to both merchants and software vendors is key to our business success and to a great customer experience for Chase clients,” says Rob Cameron, President, Chase Merchant Services, JP Morgan & Chase Co. He explains that they have a certification process that allows merchants working with any of their 300 certified software vendors to easily connect all of their systems with integrated terminals.

“We also make it very easy for software companies to integrate with us and they can offer payments as part of their services,” he added.

“BY INTEGRATING ALL OF THESE SYSTEMS, THE RETAILER NOW HAS A REALLY GOOD UNDERSTANDING OF THE FREQUENCY OF A CUSTOMER’S VISITS, WHAT THEY LIKE AND WHAT THEY MIGHT BE INTERESTED IN. AND IT’S ALL DRIVEN BY THE ADDITIONAL INFORMATION THAT THEY RECEIVE FROM CUSTOMERS. IT’S ALL ABOUT ASKING FOR THE RIGHT INFORMATION AT THE RIGHT TIME.”

ROB CAMERON
JPMorgan Chase & Co.

JPMorgan Chase recently acquired fintech company WePay, a Silicon Valley-based financial technology firm that delivers payments-as-aservice APIs. Now that WePay is a Chase company, Cameron says they can onboard merchants quicker so businesses can accept payments instantly, get paid faster, and never lose a sale.

Cameron agrees with Zujewski about the ways integrated systems can help enhance the in-store experience, making the gathering and management of customer information seamless and unobtrusive, allowing the retailer to establish the quicker cultivation of meaningful relationships with customers.

Cameron described a recent store experience in New York City where a store associate approached him with mobile device in hand and was able to provide information about in-stock inventory on-demand. After selecting his purchase, he was able to complete his purchase using a credit card, making the whole experience simple and convenient. Additionally, the store associate requested an email for receipt purposes which enables easy returns and also enables the store to create a record of his purchase, allowing for more “tailored” marketing and outreach to him in the future.

“Retailers are starting to make payments part of a seamless overall retail experience,” he says. “The integration of inventory, customer management and payments systems, enhances the interaction capabilities of in-store mobile technologies, elevating the experience and better integrating with how customers use their smartphones.”

By integrating all of these systems, retailers now have a really good understanding of the frequency of a customer’s visits, what they like, how they prefer to pay and what they might be interested in. And it’s all driven by the additional information that they receive from customers.

“It’s all about asking for the right information at the right time. And, if done properly, merchants can really start to provide customers with a level of convenience, consistency and personalization never before seen.”

A new mobile age

It’s all part of the mobile and digital evolution, suggests Zujewski. He says that it’s the way things are going, toward an even more mobileenhance in-store retail environment.

“The old way of doing things in the retail store no longer works,” he says. “The retail store of the future will be enabled more by mobile, creating a more flawless and enjoyable experience. The brick-and-mortar location isn’t going away for so many reasons. It’s just changing.”

Cameron agrees, recognizing the role that mobile will play with respect to the experience.

“Retail is always changing. And, as a result of that change, payments options and processing is always changing, too. If we look just a few years down the road, transactions will become much less about cash and cards and will evolve more toward what I would describe as a customer on file transaction where, if you’ve already been into the store, they have your payment information and can accept your payment credentials digitally.”

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