How to utilise mobile to benefit your retail business

September marked an important milestone for omnichannel retail, as IMRG and Capgemini revealed mobile retail traffic has overtaken desktop activity for the first time in history. A third – 36% – of all UK e-retail sales now come from tablets and smartphones.

While this is important news for pure plays, the unstoppable rise of mobile is set to have a much wider impact than online retail alone. For example, retailers who don’t invest in responsive websites, which change format to fit multiple screen sizes, will find themselves falling behind their competitors.

The increase in mobile engagement is also affecting retail stores, for instance the widespread acknowledgement of showrooming – consumers coming into the store to browse before buying a product online instead. Shoppers are using their smartphones in the aisles to check they’re getting the best product, price and package, and this has left many retailers fearing a decline in High Street sales.

Rather than panic, however, retail businesses should be embracing the new opportunities for interaction in all channels that mobile is presenting. For instance, the adoption of tablets has led to an acceptance of mPoS technology, which enables sales staff to create a personal in-store experience centred around the needs of the customer.

It also opens up new means of communicating with customers – whether that’s mobile optimised email marketing, text messaging or even the latest wave of geo-based push notifications. As House of Fraser’s recent trial of beacon technology inside mannequins demonstrates, enhancing the customer experience through mobile can be a huge customer draw as well as an upselling tool.

While much of the mobile technology that retailers will be able to use to benefit their bottom lines is still in its infancy, the latest IMRG statistics underline something very important: now that we’ve passed the mobile tipping point, retailers cannot afford to ignore its influence.

Why retailers, hotels and restaurants should invest in a professional WiFi network

The need for a strong WiFi network in retail and hospitality businesses to support technology such as iPads, visual merchandising, digital music and personal WiFi for customers has reached a tipping point.

Since 2012 there has been an increasing demand for WiFi from retailers, restaurants and hotels. Whilst we are still seeing some businesses trying to provide WiFi on the cheap, most now see the value in installing a robust, business class solution which gives greater management of the WiFi network from head office and delivers security of sensitive business data.

As more-and-more new technologies that rely on the network continue to emerge, the management becomes ever more complicated and businesses need to be mindful that it’s important to keep public and private data separate for security purposes.

With a mobile phone only an arm’s length away for close to 50% of the population, what better method is there for retailers, restaurants and hotels to communicate with their customers?

Customers now use mobiles and tablets to access websites, research products and services, make purchases and reservations, as well as downloading vouchers for redemption in person and accessing free WiFi networks in stores, hotels, cafes and restaurants. Businesses can also send direct marketing in the form of push alerts, enticing customers with the latest offers and promotions.

Personal customer access to the internet cannot run off the same part of the network in which customer transactions take place, however, running two or three separate networks is costly and complicated. This is when the need for a business class solution is highlighted – one that is capable of managing all of this functionality securely and cost effectively on one network.

If your business is currently relying on a basic broadband service, it may well need to consider a professional and robust business network in the near future, as consumer demand continues to grow for services that run off the WiFi network.

Big data in retail: The power of customer transaction data

Fact: Accessing customer data in a format that allows retailers to identify trends on when, where and how individual customers like to shop and the type of products they prefer to purchase is invaluable in helping retailers to put relevant offers in front of customers using targeted marketing.  But the challenge remains – how can retailers go about collecting and making sense of this data for a clear picture of customer shopping habits?

Banks and payments processors are miles ahead of the retail industry in documenting customers purchase history, with it being a fundamental part of their day-to-day business processes. NatWest has taken this a step further by offering customers a comprehensive annual breakdown on total expenditure by retail outlet, restaurant, hotel, attraction visited etc. So as a customer, you would know how many times you visited a particular restaurant that year and the total amount spent.

The financial sector spends much more than retailers on the technology that enables this level of granular detail, which explains how they are more advanced. However, they have an advantage on retailers, in that most of their customers only purchase a handful of products, where retailers are dealing with much larger product and range volumes. The issue for most retailers is amassing and analysing data, which is not a core retail competency, and without the technology in place to enable this, it’s near on impossible to make sense of it all.

Standards such as PCI: DSS have also made it more of a challenge for retailers to monitor customer transactions, with stringent and expensive guidelines to abide by if they are to hold and securely process customer card details.

Taking all of this into consideration, it makes sense for retailers to partner with a payments provider that has the capability to manage payments across the retail estate and multiple channels, with a central hub for all of this data to be stored for visibility of transactions across the business – ultimately to deliver a single view of the customer – then report in a way that can be exploited through marketing.

With the growing importance of big data, it will become common practice for retailers to work in a much more integrated way with payments processors and banks, to access critical customer data. As they say, knowledge is power!


Retailers need to go the extra mile in-store

Retailers need to go that extra mile in-store. In a difficult economy and in an age when the consumer is increasingly shaping the retail landscape, retailers need to up their game in-store and provide a journey that leaves customers wanting more.

Whilst a growing proportion of investment is going into online channels, to neglect stores is to neglect the brand and it is the brand that is the only thing that survives in both good and bad times.

And it’s not all about offering the cheapest prices to entice consumers to shop in-store, but focusing on the experience and convenience of service so customers feel there is added value in them visiting a store.

Some great examples of innovative services in-store include; order for home delivery if an item is out of stock at Next, iPads at Reiss that offer connection to its website, enabling the retailer to catalogue it’s entire product range in-store without having to stock it and media screens at Victoria’s Secret, displaying product demos and catwalk shows to better promote seasonal collections.

It is these kind of initiatives that generate real excitement amongst consumers, who spread the news via word of mouth and social media channels, creating a buzz and ramping up store traffic.

Ultimately, making the store a place worth visiting is about engaging with the consumer using interactive technology such as free Wi-Fi, mobile points of sale, online connection, special events, click and collect but also collect and click, and digital media.

It all adds up to a significant investment, but getting the store network right, with a core network to support the technology and manage the data, provides the platform on which to build the store of the future.

4G – hype or alternative to fixed line internet access?

There has been a great deal of news in the national media and on TV about the launch of 4G services in the UK, particularly since EE (formerly Orange and T-Mobile) was awarded the first 4G spectrum last year, resulting in the imminent auctioning of spectrum licences to other mobile operators and download speeds potentially faster than fixed line broadband.

The question is; have we at last found a technology that will replace fixed line broadband services in business premises and at home and therefore negate the need for a standard telephone line?

Well it’s not the first time the telecoms industry has faced this question. It was also posed when 3G services were launched in the mid 2000’s, offering theoretical speeds in excess of the fastest service at the time. The reality being, that even though 3G offers extremely fast download speeds, few of us have ever experienced what the technology is capable of.

The main reason for this is, congestion on the networks, or put another way, the networks have been unable to cope with customer demand, particularly since the explosion of smart phones and tablet devices. As a result, actual speed is greatly affected by a user’s location and how busy the local network is, i.e. how many times have you been stuck in a traffic jam or at a busy event and been unable to get a reliable connection?

Most network operators are investing significantly in their networks to support 4G, evidenced by the merger of T-Mobile and Orange, and Vodafone’s acquisition of Cable & Wireless. So we can at least hope that the experience on 4G will be sufficiently better than 3G. With the impact of the investment in networks by the mobile operators yet to be understood and Ofcom’s aim in auctioning licences to achieve 98% UK coverage by 2017.

The reality is that we won’t know for some time whether 4G will be a technology that we can use as a reliable replacement for fixed line network connections – particularly in a business scenario.

As a network specialist, Vodat International continue to monitor the progress of 4G services as they are deployed by the operators and will keep readers updated on its progress.