Consumers are doing more of their shopping online, and when they do come inside physical stores, they expect to be wowed. In addition to splashy displays and exclusive promotions available only to in-store shoppers, major retailers are arming sales associates with sophisticated technology to drive better in-store experiences.
Consumer surveys show that the demand for these technologies is there, with 78% of shoppers now saying they want businesses to do a better job of using technology to improve the experience. Another 61% say they would rather use self-service tools than track down employees in-store.
Eighty-nine percent of retailers plan to give store associates mobile devices within the next three years. These devices will be used for everything from customer identification and engagement, to associate training, task management, and even accepting payments from showroom floors.
Here are five examples of ways that major retailers are fulfilling those consumer wishes and implementing mobile technology platforms inside their physical stores.
1. Accessing inventory information from the showroom floor
When the e-commerce apparel company Bonobos decided to open pop up shops across the United States, it worked with an in-store mobile technology vendor called Tulip Retail to develop a cohesive shopping experience that would combine the best aspects of shopping online and in-person. Using Tulip’s mobile application platform, store associates are able to complete transactions from anywhere on the showroom floor. Associates are able to use mobile iOS devices to find products, inventory, and customer information. The data that’s generated from the showroom floor is then shot back to Bonobos headquarters, where it’s used to fuel subsequent marketing campaigns.
2. Helping customers fill their dressing rooms before they’ve arrived
Nordstrom is facing the nationwide decrease in shopping mall traffic head on by adding new features to its mobile app that are meant to drive store traffic. The company has added “store mode” and “visual search” capabilities to its consumer-facing mobile app. Consumers who enter store mode can toggle between Nordstrom’s online inventory and items available at their nearest store. Meanwhile, the visual search feature allows customers to take photos of things and match those images to items that can be found at Nordstrom. Nordstrom also launched a pilot program called Reserve & Try, where customers at Seattle-area stores were able to have the merchandise they selected on their phone placed in an actual dressing room.
3. Giving shoppers tools to find products themselves
Lowe’s became one of the first major retail giants to implement in-store location features into its consumer-facing mobile app back in 2013. For more than four years now, consumers have been able to use the Lowe’s mobile app to research products and prices in-store. Customers using the Lowe’s mobile app have been able to locate items in-store, scan barcodes, read product reviews, and manage their loyalty program accounts. The store also began using Google’s Tango technology to add augmented reality to its in-store navigation tools last year. The result is a consumer-oriented system that frees up sales associates who would otherwise be taking on these tasks.
4. Letting mobile app users skip the lines
For years, Walmart has been a leader in using mobile-location technology to improve the way people shop inside physical stores. Most recently, in February of this year, the company announced the expansion of its Walmart mobile app, with “express lanes” that shoppers in more than 4,700 stores can use to bypass lines altogether when they place their orders and pay through the company’s app. The “express lane” feature in Walmart’s mobile app is available for customers refilling their prescriptions in the pharmacy and people transferring money in Walmart stores.
5. Modernizing the fitting room experience
When the fashion label Reformation, known for its “cool girl” aesthetic and eco-friendly fabrics, opened its San Francisco store earlier this year, the company added a number of mobile technology and augmented reality features to change the way consumers shop. Using touchscreens placed around the store, customers can select the size and color for any item and start a “digital fitting room.” Sales associates will then stock the actual fitting room with those items, usually within 2 minutes. The new workflow improves inventory accuracy and more creates a less cluttered showroom floor where customers can browse without feeling overwhelmed.
Stephanie Miles is a senior editor at Street Fight.