How smartphones will be a retailer’s best friend in 2023

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By Hannah Abbasi, Head of Insight & Strategy at Outform.

Smartphones have become a conundrum for retailers. On one hand they allow brands to plug every single piece of marketing communication into a ‘buy now’ opportunity. On the other hand - as Outform’s recent study into post-pandemic shopping habits revealed - consumers are using them in-store to make product comparisons against competitors.

For retailers under pressure to demonstrate ROI from their costly bricks & mortar stores, investing in better mobile-first communication so that shoppers who visit their store no longer turn to third-party alternatives, will prove paramount in the year ahead.

Seven-in-ten of us now use phones in bricks & mortar outlets. It’s a clear sign that shoppers expect the convenience of online shopping to be mirrored on the high street. It’s now up to retailers to make sure their physical spaces offer similar utility benefits at the same speed as digital channels.

Customer reviews, virtual demos and product provenance are just some types of information that should become instantly accessible through phones to shoppers in-store. Innovative retailers will also exploit APIs to connect smartphones to changing backend information, such as stock availability and location, so that it’s updated in real-time to create a seamless experience.

The tools and technology we already have can help retailers create this version of the future of shopping. Seamless apps and mobile-friendly QR technology will increasingly provide the range of content and utility shoppers want when they need it. What’s more, it will allow retailers to break down in-store barriers that hinder a purchase, such as when consumers cannot get the information they need during busy periods.

We’re already seeing this in practice. Amazon Style opened its first bricks & mortar outlet in 2022, leaning heavily on QR codes. Shoppers who scanned them can easily discover other colours and styles available. Shoppers can also use an app to unlock in-store fitting rooms. It’s a successful mesh of the best of physical, in this instance trying on clothes, with online shopping behaviours and habits.

Smartphones pave the way to shopper insights

Shoppers who use smartphones in store are on board with sharing data if it is worth their while.

Three-in-ten (31%) consumers who are comfortable with sharing data say their main reason for doing so would be to access details on products without them having to find a member of staff, second only to faster checkouts (45%).

This gives retailers a real opportunity to use in-store data for the benefit of shoppers, and to transform a data exchange into a value exchange. By providing personalised information that helps shoppers inform a purchase decision, physical retailers have the opportunity to collect shopper data through app downloads and QR codes. 

Going forward then, it is the brands and retailers that make smartphones a cornerstone of their in-store experience who will have the best understanding of customer habits. A grasp, for example, of how a shopper discovers products and their most frequent purchases will pave the way to more granular retargeting. Rather than a hindrance, that becomes an added value to shoppers, and clinches long-term loyalty.

But while smartphones are fundamental to future in-store purchases, not all retailers are adapting to digital quickly enough to meet these new shopper expectations. As a result, high-street visitors will continue to seek out information themselves and could easily find themselves on a competitor’s landing page instead.

There’s a small window of opportunity for retailers to create a future of shopping experience that is much less futuristic than what’s possible in the metaverse but has real value. It’s about ensuring in-store tech gives shoppers the same level of utility they’ve become used to getting online, which is what future shoppers both desire and expect.

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