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Mobile Is Rapidly Transforming the Retail Sector

Mobile devices and applications are transforming the retail sector, according to a recently released report by Google: "One in three shoppers use their smartphones to find information instead of asking for help from a store employee. In some categories 55 percent say they do this when shopping for appliances, 48 percent for electronics, 40 percent for baby care and 39 percent for household care." These statistics show the movement from service to self-service, with mobile as the principal enabler.

Kevin Benedict of sys-con.com lists some of the most interesting findings in the Google report:

  • Seventy-nine percent of smartphone owners are smartphone shoppers.
  • Sixty-two percent use a smartphone to assist with shopping at least once a month and 17 percent use it this way at least once a week.
  • Eighty-four percent of smartphone users use tem to help shop while in a store.
  • Fifty-three percent of smartphone users use their devices in-store to make price comparisons.
  • Thirty-nine percent of smartphone users use them to find promotional offers while in the store.
  • Thirty-six percent of smartphone users use their devices to find location/directions to stores.
  • Thirty-five percent of smartphone users use their smartphones to find store hours.

This data dovetails with a Forbes Insight report called “Retail’s Mobile Imperative,” whose key findings included:

  • Retailers are actively pursuing the mobile channel; nearly three out of four have some kind of mobile initiative in place today.
  • Nearly one-half of retailers say they want to capture “first-mover advantage” as their customers go mobile.
  • Retailers are at varying levels of sophistication in terms of their mobile efforts. Fundamental tools such as mobile ads and mobile websites are the most common. Other companies are moving into more transaction-based and customer service-oriented applications. The most sophisticated are adding location- and context-based apps.
  • For many retailers, mobile is much more than a “scaled-back” version of the Internet. Rather, they take advantage of the ubiquity of cell phones and smartphones to create location-specific experiences.
  • Retailers are determining which mobile devices and operating systems to support, relying primarily on the device’s current and potential market share and the demographics of the device’s user base.
  • Retailers appear satisfied with their mobile efforts, with six out of 10 saying their mobile channel returns are either meeting or exceeding expectations.

Much of this phenomenon was anticipated in a GS1 Mobile Com whitepaper that appeared at the onset of this decade, as mobile phone users were beginning to transition in droves to smartphones, and before the development and rapid deployment of tablets. The paper, “Mobile in Retail: Getting Your Retail Environment Ready for Mobile,” states plainly why mobile is good for retail: increased sales, increased customer satisfaction and loyalty, and added value to physical products and experiences through digital services. Clearly retailers are hearing the message, and with over one-half the planet’s population equipped with mobile phones, there is a vast audience poised to hear their messages.

The mobile in retail phenomenon is developing new angles even as it emerges. In a post on Cisco’s The Network blog, Joanne Taaffe, deputy editor of Total Telecom Magazine, addresses one that’s gaining traction: providing product development data to consumers. According to Taaffe, concern from consumers about the origins of the products they purchase is prompting retailers to start using mobile technologies to track provenance and sustainability of goods.

While costs may slow development of this mobile retail functionality in the short term, and analysts contend that consumer activism will be necessary to drive further moves by retailers to use technology to provide up-to-date information on how they have sourced the products on their shelves, we wouldn’t be surprised to see the practice ultimately triumph. After all, the mobile world is one where the customer is king or queen; recent history has shown that he or she generally gets what he or she wants in the end.

Stay tuned—or powered up.

Posted by the Epicor Social Media Team

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