Many customers don't know about all
the ways they can use smartphones to
enhance the shopping experience.
Retail has always been a sector that has revolved around the rise of new technologies, whether it was the mechanized cash register decades ago, universal product codes in the 1970s or online stores at the tail end of the last century. With more people using mobile devices (more than 160 million American adults now own smartphones, according to comScore), it would seem logical that these handsets will be the latest tool to really change the way retailers think about the customer experience.
Predictably, merchants have generally reacted strongly to mobile devices. It started with mobile applications and online stores designed specifically for the smaller screens, but it didn't end there. As location-based shopping platform Retale noted, retailers also rolled out innovations
such as mobile wallets that allow people to pay by tapping their phones to a receiver, in-store push notifications that send messages to nearby smartphone users, mobile social functions and other such cutting-edge features.
Leaving the customer behind
The problem, however, is that many customers aren't eagerly jumping on board with mobile as readily as merchants are. The kicker here is that shoppers aren't against these technologies - rather, they often don't know they exist or how to use them. According to Retale, only one-in-four customers has encountered in-store push notifications, while as a few as 11 percent of Android users have tried to make retail purchases with their smartphones.
When asked how they would use these different features, approximately half of iOS respondents said they would be in favor of receiving push notifications that could alert them of sales or other pertinent information. As many as half of customers don't know what near-field communication is and that it could be used to streamline the payment process.
Merchants across the globe are striving to empower the mobile shopper by offering all of these different features. No doubt about it either, these mobile functions benefit both parties. For the retailer, push notifications could spur a sale while mobile payments could expedite the time spent in line. For the customer, push notifications may help them save some money on a purchase while mobile payments may be more convenient.
However, the onus is on the retailer to make sure shoppers are aware of these functions and how to use them, or else they may just fall by the wayside of other cool, but underutilized tools.
"For retailers looking to maximize traffic and sales, understanding consumer motives and desires is the best way to improve the shopping experience," said Retale president Patrice Dermody. "And that could mean helping consumers better understand the benefits of these technologies in order to break down the barriers to widespread adoption."
Making mobile a part of the entire shopping experience
Of course, in-store mobile features such as push notifications and mobile wallets are only one facet of mobile shopping. While that area may remain underutilized, many customers are actively using their devices for browsing retail sites and conducting product research.
In fact, one report from comScore last year suggested that 55 percent of all time spent on online stores
was conducted through smartphones and tablets compared to laptops and desktop computers. This illustrates the huge impact that mobile is having on the retail sector. If merchants can do a better job of integrating mobile into the in-store shopping experience, they will be in a strong position to truly capitalize on the huge number of people who turn to their phones as shopping companions.