The CX industry has seen a lot of promising tech developments this past year – the continued rise of mobile payments, improvements in AI and machine learning, increased adoption of smart devices, growing consumer interest in things like AR and VR… The list goes on.

All of this innovation tells us a lot about what to expect in 2018 – namely, an increased need for truly seamless experiences across a wide range of devices and platforms. For retailers in particular, this means getting to grips with in-store mobile engagement, using the right tech (combined with the customer’s mobile device) to join up the digital and physical aspects of the customer journey.

We caught up with Niall Cook from Thyngs, a Norwich-based start-up using NFC, QR and beacon technology to help brands create more engaging omnichannel experiences. Check out Niall’s take on the future of in-store mobile engagement, below…
 
HTK: Why should retailers (particularly those in the mid-market) care about in-store mobile engagement?

Niall Cook: According to the ONS, e-commerce accounted for over 15% of total UK retail spending in March this year, but more than a quarter of those sales were conducted via a smartphone. It is estimated that this m-commerce retail spending will total more than £31 billion in 2017, and will continue to grow in the coming years.

Traffic to retail websites from mobile devices has also overtaken desktop traffic for the first time this year, accounting for 36% of all online sales. At the same time, showrooming (buying online after seeing a product in store) and webrooming (buying in store after seeing a product online) are still rife, driven – you guessed it – by mobile. In order to survive, retailers will therefore have to find new ways to connect their store and digital experiences, and mobile engagement will be the key to achieving this.
 
 
HTK: What do you find customers are looking for when it comes to engaging on mobile devices (or other technology) while shopping?

NC: For many, mobile technology is about making life easier and more convenient; being able to do things quickly and effortlessly, whether they’re in the home, at work, socialising, or shopping. Therefore, they value mobile experiences that help them do this (and get annoyed by those that don’t). In practice, this means that any mobile engagement offered by retailers needs to deliver value throughout the customer journey by saving time, effort, or money – and ideally all three.

The biggest enemies of a good mobile engagement experience are latency (waiting) and friction (multiple steps), concepts that retailers should already be familiar with (how many customers like waiting too long in a queue or having to enter lots of data during an online checkout?).

In-store mobile experiences that cut down time or the number of steps will create a perception of value for consumers, so retailers should be thinking about things designed to add value and convert customers whilst they are ‘in the moment’, like ordering ahead, pay from product, live comparisons, out of stock ordering, and exclusive offers and discounts.
 
 
HTK: What do you find are the common challenges retailers face when it comes to in-store engagement? How can they overcome these?

NC: Retails face several challenges when it comes to in-store engagement. First, there’s the challenge of deciding whether to prioritise it amongst all the other impacts on their business. Second, the whole area is moving so quickly that it’s hard to keep up. Third, working out what to do, with which technologies and how much to invest – and then getting buy-in from other decision makers – requires time and knowledge of what works and what doesn’t, so it’s too easy to put the whole thing into the ‘too difficult’ box.

The key to many of these challenges is not to try and boil the ocean. Retailers should find a trusted partner and work with them to identify a trial use case that could really add value to both the customer and the business. They can then undertake a pilot in just a few stores very cost effectively, using the results to quickly learn and improve before implementing more widely.

They need to get over the idea that all they need is a mobile app, however. Very few consumers want an app from every shop they go into cluttering up their phone (the majority of people download less than 12 apps in an entire year). Instead, they need to think about how they use technologies like NFC, QR and Bluetooth to create in-store mobile ‘touchpoints’ that trigger a sale.
 
 
HTK: Which brands / retailers do you see as leading the way in creating engaging mobile experiences in store? What sets them apart?

NC: Every brand and retailer is different, as are their customers, so there’s no such thing as a leader; what adds value to one audience segment won’t necessarily add value to another. That said, the brands that are getting the most attention right now are those that are really thinking about the role of the physical store in the mobile customer journey and creating seamless, personalised experiences that combine different technologies. US retailers such as Macy’s, Wal-Mart and Nordstorm seem much more willing to experiment with Bluetooth beacons than their counterparts in the UK. In Europe, Carrefour has used NFC and QR codes to speed up the grocery shopping experience and IKEA is definitely one to watch for interesting uses of AR and VR.
 
 
HTK: Where do you see the focus being for in-store mobile engagement in the coming year?

NC: In-store experiences that make it possible for customers to do things with a smartphone that couldn’t be done before (or at least not easily) will attract a lot of attention in 2018, especially when they are used to prompt a purchase. Banks and merchant services are focusing on payment terminals, but very few of the things that most annoy customers when in a store relate to how they pay when they get to the tills.

The customer that struggled to find a parking space and ran across town only to find the product out of stock wasn’t livid because the store didn’t take contactless payments. Equally, the person that had to wait in a long queue when they could have paid for their goods on their phone whilst browsing the store didn’t complain because they had to punch a PIN into a terminal.

Retailers that use their stores to encourage and guide customer interaction with products via their mobile phones – rather than just leaving them to do that anyway – will therefore have a much better chance of securing a sale, whether it’s for a stock item, something in a supplier’s warehouse, or something online.
 
 
HTK: What new technology or developments should retailers be aware of in this space?

NC: We’re going to see a lot more retailers integrating the digital and physical to create meaningful and rewarding in-store experiences. Think AR, VR, mobile scanning and payments, clicks-to-bricks and bricks-to-clicks, and proximity marketing.

In addition, as digital wallet usage increases, retailers will really need to think hard about how they support them beyond the till. Apple Pay and Android Pay are becoming more common methods of making a purchase via a payment terminal, but they can also reduce the friction in m-commerce transactions, along with more established digital wallets like PayPal. The days of having to enter card details using an on-screen keyboard are numbered, and that’s probably a good thing.

Where it gets really interesting is when these two trends meet, i.e. when digital wallet payments meet proximity technologies like NFC, QR codes and Bluetooth beacons. Now any physical object can become both a mobile engagement point and an instant point of sale. By placing a phone onto an item, scanning a QR code, or simply going into an area of the store, brands and retailers can engage consumers with their products with augmented and virtual reality experience, then make it really easy for them to make a purchase, right there and then.
 

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For a few practical ways to use in-store tech (that you can kick off in the next 12 months), check out our latest guide.