Posts Tagged 'smartphones'

Sears embraces smartphone shoppers, but is it too late?

There is plenty of Sears-bashing on RetailWire and I’m one of the chief contributors. So I had a recent chance to praise Sears (in a backhanded way) for embracing newer technologies such as QR readers on smartphones. Here’s my take:

The use of QR codes is a good way to take e-commerce to a more convenient level. It appeals to the impulse shopper with a smartphone at hand, and eliminates the need to deal with a computer or tablet to place an online order. This sort of technology will become more commonplace in the next five years, and you might expect to see kiosks where customers with smartphones can shop from “virtual malls.”

And just because it’s Sears/Kmart doesn’t make it a bad idea! However, a couple of key questions linger: Is the “smartphone shopper” also a Sears/Kmart shopper? And does the new technology hide the fact that these stores are no longer perceived as top-of-mind or relevant shopping options?

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Does “brick and mortar” retail have a future?

A provocative discussion at RetailWire about the impact of e-commerce and mobile technology on the future of brick-and-mortar stores. The writer’s premise (which I do not completely agree with) is that the personalization and empowerment of new technology make “status quo” retail a thing of the past. I say it depends on the type of store and product category:

I agree that “smart” mobile technology is changing the retail landscape, but I also agree with the conclusion that “physical retail” is here to stay. Yes, you can buy a book digitally while riding on the bus and start reading it on your mobile device…but there are still plenty of merchandise categories that demand physical interaction even if they are bought through e-channels. You can’t wear a sweater on your smartphone, nor can you use an iPad to toast a bagel…yet.

As long as consumers still want to “touch & feel” merchandise before they buy it, and as long as they enjoy the social interaction of shopping, there is still a big role for physical stores. And as long as customers clamor for value and convenience in some of their shopping trips, the importance of “unique and memorable experiences” may be overstated.

Retailers: Get in front of the smartphone wave

The current levels of usage may be overstated, but there is no doubt that smartphones’ market share continues to soar. Along with it comes related technology such as scanning and QR apps, empowering the consumer in ways probably not foreseen ten years ago. The best way for retailers to avoid having competitors “snatch consumers out of the aisle” is to be proactive instead of playing defense. In particular, make sure that you are inviting as many of your existing customers to opt into text offers, use the social networking tools that are already driving e-commerce, and get in front of emerging technologies like QR apps. And — most importantly — execute! There is no substitute for having wanted product in your store on a timely basis at the right price, whether your customer carries a smartphone or not.

Should sales associates use smartphones on the job?

A provocative article by fellow consultant Doug Fleener triggered a huge response on RetailWire. The question: Should sales associates be permitted to use smartphones on the job? And (if not) how does store management wrestle with this growing issue? My opinion:

Unless cellphones and other “smart” devices are being used to help customers or drive sales (e.g. calling another store, checking for inventory availability online), they should be off limits for sales associates. What Doug describes is another example of “bad manners” creeping into everyday life. All of us have fallen victim to smartphone users checking e-mail, etc. during meetings or social occasions where the unspoken messsage is, “I am more important that you are.” (Or we’ve been guilty of the same behavior ourselves.) If retailers take the position that customers or browsers are invited guests, and train their sales associates accordingly, this sort of breach of etiquette — and bad business move — can be avoided.

How far can retailers exploit smartphones?

As long as consumers are more willing to indicate their location on their GPS-enabled smartphones — and less wary of the privacy implications — it will pay for retailers to take advantage of the trend and the technology. There is a great opportunity to reach the ultimate target market — consumers who are already in your store — with incentives to stay, to browse and to buy. If stores can further discern the specific merchandise interests of customers in the store, the target marketing becomes that much more effective. I’m looking at this strictly for its marketing potential…again, the privacy issues involved are troubling but there has to be willingness to “opt-in” for the idea to work.


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