9 Ways Merchants Can Upgrade the In-Store Experience With Hyperlocal Tools

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aisleIf brick-and-mortar retailers want to compete with e-commerce competitors, they have to make the in-store shopping experience better for their customers. Nearly half (48%) of shoppers surveyed by Cisco said they are currently using, or would like to use, a smartphone to shop while inside a store. Meanwhile, 40% said they now have “heightened expectations” for access to all forms of decision-making information when shopping in-store.

Although retailers know their customers are craving more digital options when shopping inside their physical stores, many are still at a loss for figuring out how they can “upgrade” the shopping experience without falling back on steep discounts and coupons. Here are nine ideas for how retailers can tackle the issue from top executives in the field of hyperlocal marketing.

1. Add location features to existing retail apps. “Retailers are not going to be able to capture shopper preference if they do not first provide a service that’s valuable to the customer. For example, one of the most popular features of the Walgreens mobile experience is the consumer’s ability to scan and refill prescriptions from their mobile device. Once the user has established a repeatable need for an app, then retailers can layer on location services. Location can be an enhancement to the user experience of an already popular or accepted mobile application.” (Daniel Bradshaw, GISi Indoors)

2. Incentivize referrals. “One way to embrace showrooming is through a strategy that I call ‘service the purchase.’ It’s another way of saying, ‘refer the customer in return for royalties.’ Combining indoor location and identity technology can create an accounting system whereby a customer is referred from one store to another, or an online vendor, in exchange for a fee. You can prove they were in your store, and purchased the item either from the online vendor while in the store or at another physical location after the referral.” (William Merrick, SOLOMO Technology)

3. Help shoppers find what they’re looking for. “Retailers should develop mobile apps so that their customers see the inventory and the aisles where they can find merchandise. They can also push on the customers’ phones all sorts of information, like daily offers. This is good for the customers because they save a lot of time finding great deals, and because it’s easier to find products in-store.” (Bogdan Oros. TxtFeedback)

4. Improve staffing with hyperlocal tools. “In-store behavior/analytics tools can help you understand what customers are doing in the store by looking at traffic patterns and identifying busy areas. Customers have to wait in line, and customers left to wander aisles on their own without helpful assistance are more likely to leave and buy online. Retailers should be using tools to figure out how long customers are waiting for service and how long they are waiting to check out. Most often, customers are in-store because they want to leave with something in hand. Having to wait makes it more likely that they will leave and buy online. (Ralph Crabtree, Brickstream)

5. Create seamless redemptions. “It’s important that customers have an easy redemption experience when using mobile offers. SAMY provides for easy POS integration so that merchants can create unique product IDs, like barcodes and product numbers, to enable a fast and seamless experience at the cash register.” (Walter Kostiuk, SAMY)

6. Gamify the experience. “Leveraging people’s natural desire for competition and achievement is a great way to utilize indoor technologies. In 2010, Starbucks gave custom Foursquare badges to people who checked in multiple times or at multiple locations. This example provides a prototype for exploration. An interesting strategy might divide a big box retailer into zones, where repeat or lingering visitors can capture zones for an in-store discount of all enclosed products. Badges, rewards, and rankings are all interesting ways to incentivize consumers to engage in a physical retail experience.” (Daniel Bradshaw, GISi Indoors)

7. Offer assistance in a nonintrusive way. “Retailers can display posters [encouraging shoppers] to either push a button or send an SMS to let somebody know if they want the retailer’s help. For example, a supermarket envisioned an interactive feedback path built with posters and technology. At the entrance, there was a poster with the message, ‘Welcome to our store, if you need help please scan a QR code or send us an SMS.’ When the customer was waiting to pay, they had another poster with, ‘Did you find everything? If not, please tell us.’ They did this to collect info from the customer and provide customer service in a friendly, nonintrusive way.” (Bogdan Oros. TxtFeedback)

8. Use CRM data to understand shopper behavior. “Imagine if our phones know where we are — inside of a popular New York retailer, for example. That very same retailer also knows you are in the store, and that you are looking at a pair of jeans with matching shoes. With today’s technology, retailers can take a look at recent CRM information to understand purchasing behavior and offer more choices. What if, based on [CRM] information, that store could send an immediate discount with incentives to make a purchase that day? Retailers don’t need to fear showrooming — they should embrace it.” (TJ Person, Koupon Media)

9. Test new tools on multiple operating systems. “Retailers should test indoor navigation technology on both Apple iOS and Android devices. If you want the ‘glowing blue dot’ on the indoor map that you get with popular outdoor maps apps, be careful: most vendors can only simulate GPS indoors for Android devices. Apple makes indoor positioning more challenging for app developers. For both iOS and Android apps, we recommend WiFi network-based positioning which uses something called a ‘real-time location server’ to triangulate your building’s WiFi access points. Today, WiFi network-based positioning is the only practical way to achieve indoor positioning for both leading mobile operating systems. (Jeff Hardison, Meridian)

Interviews have been edited for length and clarity.

Stephanie Miles is an associate editor at Street Fight.

Stephanie Miles is a journalist who covers personal finance, technology, and real estate. As Street Fight’s senior editor, she is particularly interested in how local merchants and national brands are utilizing hyperlocal technology to reach consumers. She has written for FHM, the Daily News, Working World, Gawker, Cityfile, and Recessionwire.