Home > IT, Mobile > When Mobile and Retail Collide

When Mobile and Retail Collide

The trend isn’t new, but it is fast becoming the norm with smartphone users.

At first you may have felt a little guilty about doing it.  I did.  And then it hit me—things have changed and they’re the ones that are out of sync.  Not me.  Not you.  Not any of us.  It’s entirely their fault.  The customer is always right.  Right?

I’m talking about “showrooming”—a by-product of the social-mobile commerce trend.  It’s the experience of walking into a local store, finding an item, holding it, looking at it from all angles, comparing colors—and then walking right out to order it for 20% less online.  Or even more dastardly, using your smartphone to compare prices and then buying the item online while you’re halfway to the parking lot.  At the end of last year, Amazon launched its much-maligned (by other retailers) “Price Check” app that specializes in doing exactly that.  Local retailers feel they are fast becoming nothing but glorified showrooms.

So why shouldn’t you feel guilty?  Because technology has changed the rules.  Stores—especially large chain stores—are not defenseless.  Retailers like Target have tried to address the issue by leaning on their suppliers for greater discounts and by offering brands or products that can’t be bought elsewhere.  Other stores are seeking legal intervention, and sales tax reform is on the table in many states.  While these initiatives may help stem the bleeding (at the expense of consumer choice), a true win-win won’t happen until physical stores adapt to the new shopping paradigm.

Just like e-commerce pioneers brought elements of traditional stores to the web over 15 years ago (think of terms like “shopping cart”, “checkout” and “browse”), now it’s time to bring the power of the web back into the physical store.  Consider these questions:

  • Why do you typically feel you know more about the store’s product line than the folks that work there?  Because you do.  Stores should give their associates the tools they need to provide information at their fingertips—not in some backroom or at their manager’s station.
  • What about providing kiosks with built-in scanners for you to identify, research and compare products?  You’ll do it on your phone anyway, and the stores can glean a wealth of marketing info in addition to fostering trust and increasing traffic.
  • Why should you have to wait in line for 10 minutes to buy breath mints or a flash drive when the guy in front of you has a full shopping cart?  Provide roaming checkout clerks that can zap your items and take your credit card for small volume purchases.
  • Why aren’t stores more flexible in their pricing?  While emerging location-based apps give you access to instant coupons and mobile-only deals, let’s be creative.  Has anyone thought of a real-time in-store auction accessible through a phone app?
  • Why don’t more stores provide free wifi?  It’s relatively simple and inexpensive, and as a side benefit, shoppers can log in (no names, just age, gender and zip, perhaps) and stores can quietly monitor their shopping and browsing habits if they want to be sneaky.
  • To borrow an idea from Barnes and Noble, how about a lounge area where you can comfortably research your purchases online?  Are the stores afraid people will abuse it?  Or instead, will the store that does it become a magnet for tech-savvy shoppers interested in the physical experience a traditional store can provide?

The truth is that in most situations we’d rather see, touch and carry home the merchandise we buy.  Retailers need to exploit this inherent benefit while simultaneously embracing ubiquitous computing.  This will involve creativity, boldness and risk, but the new paradigm is waiting for someone to discover it.  And when they do, you won’t have to feel guilty anymore.

Categories: IT, Mobile
  1. Wilma
    May 23, 2012 at 2:36 pm

    Hi Mike,
    What you say is so true. I have an example of where the merchants are behind. How about when I pick up an item and it has no price tag. I can’t scan it because I do not have the new gadget. I then turn into someone resembling a tourist in the big city, by looking up at the stores support columns. I’m looking for the sign that says “scanner here”. I walk the half block across the store, scan and decide to buy or not to buy. One of the rules of sales is get the consumer to touch it (drive the car, inhale that new car smell). I have it in my hand, I price is right there, why doesn’t it give me the option to buy? It can print out receipt or better yet, interact with me to send receipt to my email. Now they have my email and can start pelleting me with deals. Instead, I look at the price, and put the item on the next available shelf because I wasn’t guided to that instant gratification.

    • May 24, 2012 at 12:22 am

      Great point about being guided to the sale, Wilma. More obstacles to remove!

  2. Mark Driscoll
    May 25, 2012 at 2:31 pm

    I’ve thought about all of these issues often. When does it get to the point that there aren’t walk in store any longer? The way I see it that as long as there is a store somewhere in the world that is having a liquidation sale you will always find a product cheaper online. It’s natural for people to go online to see if they are getting the best “deal” on the item they are about to purchase in the store. The problem is – it’s only advantageous to keep a store open if you are making a profit. I feel like the days are gone when you go to a little town and shop on the main street. Unless you are selling items that have a high profit margin (food but mostly alcohol) there is almost no way to sell enough product to pay employees, rent, and still pay your suppliers. When a company goes to Wal-Mart and says – here is my product, it’s great and I think you should keep in stock. Wal-Mart is going to look at it and say – how did you come up with your price and can you reduce your production cost? They are basically telling you that to do business with us you will have to have this item produced overseas at a cheaper rate or basically lose money to even operate. While I thankful that we have all of this information at our finger tips I just have to wonder if it’s worth the cost at the end of the day.

  3. Mark Driscoll
    May 25, 2012 at 2:43 pm

    Re-reading I may have missed my point. While there are a few enhancements that stores could make to stay with the times we should “reward” organizations that do the “right thing” because everyone deserves to make a profit. Basically, I’m not sure if it’s up to traditional store to change their habits as much as it may be good for us to change ours.

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