10 Ways Retailers Can Create Awareness of In-Store Mobile Channels

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The notion of how to manage customer service is changing for brick-and-mortar merchants as shoppers increasingly voice their preference for communicating with businesses through their smartphones rather than face-to-face, even while they’re shopping in-store. Fifty-eight percent of shoppers in a Consumer Electronics Association survey said they’d rather look up information on their smartphones while shopping than speak to an employee.

Retailers have reacted to this shift by investing in hyperlocal technologies like beacons and mobile apps to engage customers in real time via their mobile devices. But many are finding that use of these services is low because consumers don’t realize they exist. As a result, retailers are questioning how best to promote their own mobile channels to in-store shoppers.

To understand how merchants should go about building these relationships and creating awareness of their mobile channels, we spoke with seven industry experts. Here’s what they said.

1. Begin by considering the value exchange. “As a proximity and presence mobile-software company, we constantly ask our customers: What is the value exchange you want to provide your customers? What are things — experiences, content, offers — you want to provide them in order to be invited into their mobile lives? Once retailers have a good understanding of that, then they can begin to execute on their mobile app and in-store engagement strategy.” (Brian Slettvet, Footmarks)

2. Leverage all the consumer touchpoints. “Retailers getting started with beacon marketing programs need to have a plan for creating awareness and educating shoppers about the benefits of using their mobile app. This means promoting the program across a variety of channels in order to stimulate mobile app downloads and engagement. Retailers should consider leveraging all consumer touchpoints, including their own website, subscriber emails, online advertising, social media, and even in-store signage and bag inserts. Sales associates should be trained to promote mobile app downloads and usage as they engage with shoppers in-store.” (Rob Murphy, Swirl)

3. Add in-store signage. “In retail, incentives using in-store signage that promotes mobile coupons are the easiest and most universally accepted across the majority of mobile users. For example, ‘Text SAVE20 to 12345 to receive a coupon to save 20 percent on today’s purchase.’ This allows the merchant to capture mobile contact information, which can be used in the future, as long as the customer opts in.” (Linden Ryan Skeens, Thumbvista)

4. Extend messaging to the mobile apps shoppers already use. “Many companies that have tested beacons have had disappointing results because of reach issues. We solve this problem via in-store amplification — the practice of extending a brand’s messaging to people who are currently shopping, via an app they already own and actively use. There is no need for retailers to incentivize a download when they can simply fish where the fish are. Retailers need not reinvent the wheel when they can work with apps that already serve a shopper’s needs and are used en masse.” (Kevin Hunter, inMarket)

5. Encourage existing app users to opt in. “In order to grow their addressable audience for beacon-triggered marketing, retailers need to not only drive new app downloads but also encourage existing app users to opt in to the program. The key to driving program engagement is to provide mobile app users with a clear and compelling reason to participate. Some of the ways that retailers are creating value for shoppers include offering incentives — for example, a special offer for program participants — providing access to useful content, or delivering valuable in-store services, like store maps, faster in-store order pick-up, or lists of in-store sales.” (Rob Murphy, Swirl)

6. Look at data to determine the best promotional strategy. “We think that Wi-Fi, mobile, and email addresses are the key pieces to omnichannel nirvana, bridging online and offline. That said, there is an open question as to how to get shoppers to log into Wi-Fi. Is it for a coupon? For the loyalty program? [To answer this, you should] measure physical locations like you do your web properties. Understand the behavioral trends of your customer base, then get granular with demographic and behavioral segmentation.” (Brent Franson, Euclid Analytics)

7. Run a pre-launch campaign. “We have a playbook for launching programs that includes a pre-launch campaign via email, social media, and web. The goal of the campaign should be to make shoppers aware of the program and build up anticipation by highlighting key benefits. This is followed by a soft-launch to store associates only, in order to make sure they are sufficiently knowledgeable about all the features of the program and are able to assist shoppers once the program is launched.” (Shekar Raman, Birdzi)

8. Use free Wi-Fi as a promotional tool. “All retailers should be capitalizing on giving customers access to free Wi-Fi with an option to join a type of engagement in exchange for a coupon. An example would be a Wi-Fi login with the option for social engagement, such as a ‘like’ on Facebook or a follow on Twitter, SMS, or email list. Once the terms and conditions of Wi-Fi are accepted, the store can ‘see’ the customer. During the next visit, the customer’s phone usually connects automatically. This is a win-win for both the store and mobile user. The mobile user saves data and the retailer can use device data for in-store analysis.” (Linden Ryan Skeens, Thumbvista)

9. Reach out with push messaging. “There is incentive for retailers to strike up the conversation via push message. We know from more than two years of data that location-based push messages can drive up app usage in the store by 16x over the baseline, and can increase product interactions at the shelf by 19x over the norm. The reason is people appreciate the reminder to use a shopping app in a store, because the store is where a shopping app adds the most value.” (Kevin Hunter, inMarket)

10. Cross-promote with contextually relevant apps. “There are many ways to initiate a download, including cross-promotion with contextually relevant apps that have a large mobile audience already. We’ve focused a lot of resources into building network sharing as a major feature of our platform. With network sharing, a retailer can provide access to its proximity beacon network and leverage existing apps to engage with the consumer to deliver value that results in the download of the retailer’s app. That initial value exchange — extra loyalty points or better content — should also encourage the consumer to download the retailer’s app.” (Preston Reed, Footmarks)

Stephanie Miles is a senior editor at Street Fight.

Interviews have been edited for length and clarity.

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.