This article originally appeared on Apparel.com. To read the article on that site, please click here.
The growing adoption of Internet-enabled mobile devices in brick-and-mortar stores signals the dawn of a new era in retail shopping. Over the past few years, retailers have been aware that many shoppers begin their search for new apparel, shoes and accessories by surfing the web on a laptop, tablet or smartphone before setting out on a shopping trip. We know that online research helps today’s busy shoppers identify the retailers and brands most likely to fit their needs.
However, the situation can change dramatically when the shopper sets foot in the store, resulting in lost sales opportunities. This is not only frustrating but also challenging for retailers who find they now have to compete in a much larger marketplace to increase sales and gain and maintain customer loyalty.
Where some retailers see crisis, however, others see opportunity. Recognizing that mobile shopping trends are here to stay, a growing number of leading department stores and specialty boutiques are equipping their sales associates with smart mobile technology and digital devices designed to engage shoppers, help them find what they are looking for, and make purchasing transactions faster, simpler and more personal.
The retail challenge: reducing lost sales
How often do “lost sales” opportunities occur and is this really a serious problem? The answer is yes, most definitely. Consider the following scenarios:
Upon arriving at a store, shoppers discover items they want are out-of-stock or not available in their size or preferred color, so they leave without buying.
Price-driven shoppers may opt to go “showrooming” ‒ a practice by which they visit retail locations to see, touch and try on clothing and other products. Then they check their smartphone to compare the store’s prices with those of other vendors, both physical and online, and often buy from the lowest-price supplier.
Over weekends and holiday times, shoppers may find crowded stores with long check-out lines too daunting, so they just move on or go home to shop online.
Engaging shoppers early in their store visit by providing sales support and using mobile technology to assist in their search can often spell the difference between a sale made and a customer lost.
How mobile devices can increase customer engagement
Smart electronics deployed for use at the point-of-sale might simply be a web-enabled portable tablet, mini tablet or handheld device for each sales associate on the floor. Some stores favor strategic placement of counters with mounted interactive screens that allow the department’s salespeople to check inventory for additional sizes or colors, or to find an out-of-stock item at another store location.
Motivated salespeople can also use these networked tools to peruse store inventory and show customers potential ‘go-withs’ ‒ such as shoes to complement a new outfit, or a jacket or sweater to top off a dress or ensemble. Customers typically welcome such personalized attention, which often results in a higher total sale.
Another portable smart device frequently deployed to facilitate a customer’s purchase is a mobile wireless thermal printer. Available in both handheld and desktop versions, these can be used by the sales team to quickly print out clear, legible sales receipts, return receipts, promotional coupons, price reduction tags and more, and communicate the data to the store’s centralized system.
The addition of these innovative tools allows sales associates to issue sales receipts and accept returns on the spot, saving customers from having to wait in long check-out lines. Decentralized printers can also take some of the pressure off check-out desk personnel and free up associates to move on to the next shopper. The overall effect is more efficient workflow, as well as more satisfied customers.
Desirable features in mobile printers
First of all, don’t underestimate the importance of ‘the right’ mobile printer. Mobile wireless printers designed for use with in-store mobile POS systems should be easy to learn and use, even by non-technical sales associates. Some current models offer full-color graphical display screens and menu icons, much as are found on PCs, tablets and smartphones. In addition, the printers should be compact and lightweight, as well as fast and reliable. It also helps if a single printer model is versatile enough to be used to print crisp, legible one-inch to three-inch (and even four-inch) wide receipts, coupons, sales tags, shelf markers and labels, both on the selling floor and in the stockroom. Dual wireless connectivity (Wi-Fi and Bluetooth) is also a convenient and highly desirable feature.
Flexibility is essential when it comes to interoperability with major operating systems, such as iOS, Android, Windows and Windows Mobile. With technology changing so rapidly, it’s important for retailers to protect their printer investment by ensuring that the printers they specify today will continue to operate hassle-free, even if they eventually decide to change or upgrade the smart device or devices used on the sales floor.
Finding an effective mobile POS system
Most retailers seeking to implement an in-store mobile POS strategy turn to industry-leading technology system consultants who regularly design and install such systems. Working with a knowledgeable and experienced business partner makes good business sense and can save a retailer significant time and money in completing the project successfully. In addition, ensuring optimal connectivity and interoperability of all hardware, software and peripherals is crucial to having a system that will work effectively for the retail organization’s central office and for all the employees who will use it.
An industry retail tech study conducted by Gartner and others revealed that preventing customers from leaving stores empty-handed by locating and ordering desired inventory from elsewhere via a mobile app is one of the chief benefit of mobile POS systems. The study also indicated that ratings in favor of in-store deployment of mobile POS continues to rise as other sales support and operational benefits continue to accrue.
Transforming the in-store experience delivers value
We all recognize that today’s shoppers have an almost unlimited range of choices as to where, when and how they shop. With so many things we do every day becoming more automated and impersonal, who doesn’t appreciate being made to feel like a valued customer rather than just another face in a check-out line? Leveraging the consumer mobility trend in dynamic ways through implementation of in-store digital and mobile technologies is totally transforming the brick-and-mortar shopping experience, and all parties stand to benefit from the resulting improvements.
Retailers that harness the power of a motivated and efficient sales team using smart technology solutions to improve customer service can increase total in-store revenues while achieving greater operational efficiency. And, creating a more convenient, personalized and memorable shopping experience can keep these valued customers coming back.
David Crist is senior vice president of sales and marketing for Brother Mobile Solutions, a provider of mobile thermal printers for retailers, as well as the manufacturing, supply chain, warehousing, transportation and other workforces on the go.