Welcome to the store that never sleeps

Switching off is not a concept that most consumers are familiar with. We’re trying to fit more activities, across more channels, into every single day. In fact, some would go as far as saying we’re ‘always-on’.

The Always-On Consumer was a term coined by Vivaldi Partners last year to describe the 48% of shoppers who go online multiple times each day, using an average of 3 devices and logging on from at least 3 locations, invariably engaging with retailers and brands along the way.

There are 5 types of Always-On Consumer:

Social bumblebee – extrovert, spontaneous, avid social media user

Mindful explorer – early tech adopter, minimalist, very loyal to favourite brands

Deal hunter – discount driven, listens to social media for tips

Focused problem solver – sticks to tried and tested brands, prefers store shopping

Ad blocker – ignores online ad content, mostly shops online for household staples

One thing they have in common, though, is the relentless pace with which they interact and digest information, not to mention the expectation that their needs will be met right there and then.

Because of this, it’s not just consumers that are always-on – retail stores must be too. The high technology dependence and low tolerance levels of today’s shoppers mean any interference in their offline encounters could result in defection to another, potentially more reliable brand. The store can’t ever afford to sleep on the job.

This so-called ‘interference’ could consist of a lack of goods availability, or a long queue at the checkout. Some retailers may claim these are inevitable experiences in the bricks-and-mortar environment, though, in-store technology enables store associates to smooth over such shortcomings; I’m thinking specifically of using mobile POS for queue busting and mobile clienteling.

However, these devices – and fixed POS terminals too – are all reliant on the store network, which underpins every element of the customer experience. Connecting devices is crucial to delivering seamless customer service. The disruption of store networks can cost retailers thousands in lost sales, while the damage caused to consumer relationships can be far greater, and longer lasting.

With this in mind, organisations cannot afford to rely on outmoded networks that are not optimised to cope with the multi-channel, multi-device demands that modern retail places on the store. They need a business-class network that can cope with high traffic, high pressure trading – across multiple sites in many cases.

Remember: the Always-On Consumer is an unforgiving being. Get caught napping even once, and these high spenders are likely to take their business elsewhere.

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.

The high street is fighting back so make sure your store is ready for the battle

Last year’s eCommerce stats are quite astounding – in the UK alone, online spending topped £91billion – that’s a growth of 16% year-on-year.

With this continued online growth in mind, which has been further bolstered by the use of smartphones, retailers are currently re-strategising, trying to determine how the store now fits into the changing retail landscape.

Although eCommerce is booming, there is still an overwhelming need for the store, as is evidenced through the current good feeling on the high street and increase in multi-channel retail – a report from Southampton University commissioned by the Government’s Future High Streets Forum found clothing and footwear sales increased in town centres from 20.5% in 2007 pre-recession to 25.4% in 2013.

For some types of retail business, if showrooming hasn’t been considered at this stage, it should be now. The modern consumer is increasingly choosing to use both online and in-store channels to shop – perhaps browsing in-store first and making the final purchase online. So give your staff the tools to encourage the completion of purchases in-store – use tablets which allow in-store ordering of products that might not be available at that particular location. This also enables up-selling and the ability to move with the customer to any point in the store.

The store should be seen as a destination in its own right so employing an inspirational store design could entice more customers inside. Think about what your store offers that other don’t; consider design, layout, quirky displays and technology. Could you be the first retailer with a merry-go round in-store or could you install a dedicated chill out zone serving free refreshments? Think outside the box.

Under pinning all of this, is how the store is connected. All elements of the business must be able to communicate with each other to give a unified view of all store operations. Get this function right and the rest will follow.

What’s the real reason card payment usage in the UK continues to grow?

The UK Cards Association has this week announced that consumer card spending surpassed £0.5 trillion for the first time in 2013. According to the report, nearly 75% of all retail spending is now through credit and debit cards in the UK, a big increase in comparison to ten years ago, when it lingered below the 50% mark. This has left us questioning, why?

Electronic payment methods have been around long enough now, that people of all demographics have felt comfortable using them for some while – so this is a doubtful cause for the constant increase, although it may be a contributing factor.

Some may blame consumers’ growing reliance on credit cards, however there has actually been a 16% fall in outstanding borrowing on credit cards since its peak in 2005, as the economy finally seems to have made a turn in the right direction. If anything, this would impact negatively on card payment figures.

In-store payment innovations such as contactless and MPoS give consumers a more exciting format to use and they may be encouraged to pay this way than through traditional methods. The ease of both payment types offer customers more convenience and speed – two things that consumers are increasingly craving.

Hand-in-hand with an increase in card payments is the growth of e-commerce – if you want to shop online, you simply have to pay electronically or you can’t make an order. With the growing spectrum of delivery and collection options being made available, paying online is sometimes the best option for time-pressed consumers.

The world is becoming ever more electronic in all aspects of life and consumers want the convenience and ease of paying by card. For large establishments, this can sometimes pose a problems with updating systems and connectivity on a large scale, but ensuring all parts of a business are networked in together streamlines the process and will inevitably impact on a company’s bottom line.

Payments in an omnichannel world

The payments industry has seen many innovational developments over last few years, from mobile payments to contactless transactions and the mobile wallet – providing the consumer with a plethora of ways to pay. But which of these should retailers look to adopt? And where do they start when considering payments across their many channels?

The real issue is that after cash, credit and debit cards, and to a degree PayPal, none of the other payment types are really ubiquitous – or at least they aren’t yet. Retailers face the problem of not knowing which technology to invest in. Get it right and you have a head start on your competitors, get it wrong and at best the investment capital is wasted, at worst you have lost ground on your competitors.

A survey by Lightspeed Research reports that 59% of today’s customers are the omnichannel customers of the future. These consumers were broken-down into three categories, including: value-focused followers, data-hungry tech enthusiasts and tech-savvy social shoppers. To empower and influence these customers into shopping in the store environment, retailers must ask themselves two questions. How will new and emerging technologies affect customers? How will the retailer be able to support these initiatives?

Mobile point of sale (POS) is a key enabler of omni-channel functionality. Mobile POS allows the customer to conveniently research options, search for deals and check out without going to a central POS. It also empowers store staff to assist the customer while they are considering a purchase, delivering product information and the capability to check stock and place an online order if an item is out of stock. These aspects of mobile POS demonstrate the retailer’s commitment to customer satisfaction.

Being able to securely report on data from all sales channels, without any PCI implications also starts to open up the possibility of building customer loyalty profiles – with insight into who a customer is, where, when and which channels they shop via. This scenario will enable retailers to be a lot more targeted with their service offering, adapting to meet the needs of the omnichannel consumer.

Mobile retail – great for staff, even better for customers

Why should so much in-store retail be tethered to the till? For example, the payments that are taken, offering customers the opportunity to become part of the brand community, or the query of stock location. All of these activities and more have traditionally taken place at a fixed device within the store and of course, at the end of a customer’s journey.

By 2016, Forrester predicts that 0.8% of retail sales will occur via mCommerce and 9.1% of retail sales will occur via eCommerce. Forrester estimates that nearly 40% of retailers have implemented mPOS or have a pilot program in place today, and 79% plan to integrate mPOS by 2015.

The race to do so, should not simply be about innovative technology and mPOS. It is about finding a mobile solution to fit the needs of your business and offering complete mobility in the store to include, mobile access to information and re-thinking the role of the sales associates.

Many retailers are struggling to drive incremental growth, and some don’t have enough capital to fund all of the initiatives they want to pursue. Meanwhile, customer behaviours are changing profoundly, particularly due to the ways that technology is now being used as part of the shopping process. Consumer adoption of mobile is growing at an exponential rate and this must be capitalised on.

Leading retailers today must plan for enabling intelligent brand ambassadors. Store staff must have access to brand content, customer and product information at a higher level than the customer can gain access to themselves, which may be harder than you think, due to the customer being able to obtain this information from their peers, the brand website and their own account information.  Note, these brand ambassadors are also sitting in customer service, with the same needs as their store colleagues.

The need for store mobility in-store is now important for a number of reasons, with customer expectation being high on the list. Making sure your customer is happy and receiving value in the store will build upon brand loyalty and subsequently, sales.