Only a few years have passed since retailers finally became comfortable with their transformation to e-tailers. Now they must shift their point of view again, becoming what we might call "see-tailers," as the physical retail store assumes the role of a showroom, with consideration selection and transactions all conducted online through smartphone apps or mobile websites. Rather than visit stores to compare prices or find new styles and products, consumers are using stores to see, touch, taste or smell a product they've already targeted, then are leaving to order the item online.
Increasingly, brick-and-mortar stores are becoming an intermediate stop for retail transactions. Consumers take their first steps by searching and comparing with a smartphone or tablet, then move to a consultation and selection phase driven by the mobile web, and ultimately complete their transactions with mobile payments and home delivery.
This new role for the retail store requires a shift in thinking, technology, layout and staffing for store owners and managers. I've identified seven areas in which retail stores and personnel must change to meet the mobility demands of their shoppers:
- While retailers have labored over the years to connect their brand with consumers in an effort to attract them into the store, retailers must now make intelligent investments in technology to digitally connect their physical stores with consumer devices. Doing so will enable consumers to easily find their brand.
- At its core, mobile retailing requires a mobile-optimized website, one that allows consumers to interact with the brand through their smartphones without download delays or pages that tumble off the edges of the screen.
- Traditional point-of-sale methodologies must be replaced by immersive engagements with consumers, maintaining virtual contact from the time they're considering a purchase, far from the store itself, through the in-store experience, selection, payment and delivery. New systems and procedures within the store must be implemented — e.g., sales associates working on handheld devices as portable CRM technologies.
- Rather than serving as sales clerks, store associates must become consultants to consumers. Those with a tech-savvy background that can help consumers in the "showroom" understand the value of the items they see are particularly valuable.
- Stop thinking of shoppers as customers and consider them instead as clients. These clients should expect to maintain the same kind of relationships with their assigned sales associates as they do with friends and followers online.
- Retailers must flip the definition of brand loyalty 180 degrees. Instead of striving to accumulate sales that ultimately lead to a broader consumer engagement with the brand, today's "see-tailer" must focus first on generating mobility-driven engagements with consumers that will ultimately lead to accumulating sales.
- Retailers should migrate rapidly from legacy technology (e.g., POS registers) to digitally renovate stores in ways that serve the mobile shopper. Provide consumers the ability to find and compare information as well as conduct transactions anywhere in the store through tech-equipped associates and store-focused tablet computers.
The retail store today is changing as rapidly as the fashions it offers, and it must be dressed in appropriate technology and processes if it expects to attract the hand of the mobile consumer.
Jane Cannon is the chief technology officer at MICROS Systems, a provider of IT solutions for the retail industry.