It might seem like a weird contradiction, but mobile shopping apps are changing the way that customers engage with and shop at traditional brick-and-mortar retailers.
“Most shoppers are now armed with a mobile device when they enter a retail store,” according to a study on mobile apps by MicroStrategy, a global analytics company. “They are highly informed and expect the retail employees they interact with to be at least (if not more) knowledgeable about a store’s products, promotions and services.”
Today’s customers, armed with all the knowledge of the internet at the tip of their fingers (or a tap of their smartphone), are much more likely to have researched a product online they are interested in buying before going to a brick-and-mortar store. And they want to deal with sales associates who are at least as knowledgeable about the product as they are.
According to MicroStrategy’s data, “educated and engaged” store associates who can answer customers' questions and are knowledgeable about a store’s products can generate a 123 percent increase in sales revenue at their store.
“A mobile app program is a huge opportunity for retailers to revolutionize how their employees work,” according to Hugh Owen, senior vice president of product marketing at MicroStrategy. “Store managers and associates are now able to take advantage of information that was once locked away in databases or tethered to a desktop PC. That information is now within arm’s reach.”
But MicroStrategy stressed that managers can’t just hand a mobile device or tablet to a store associate and expect an instant jump in productivity. Instead, companies need to build an “effective and unique” mobile strategy specific to the retailer and its potential customers.
MicroStrategy also found that managers who used mobile devices on the sales floor made faster and smarter decisions because they were able to access information — such as that a popular item was almost out of stock and needed to be reordered — in real time, which allowed them to make better and more informed decisions throughout the course of the work day.
“With mobile devices in hand, store managers can quickly take action from the sales floor. They no longer need to wait to check the PC from their desks in the backroom,” according to MicroStrategy. “A one-stop shop for managers, mobile apps deliver data to help determine the best product merchandising and promotional strategies based on store traffic, inventory availability and planograms.”
For example, The Container Store uses a mobile app that allows management to track sales per payroll hour, thus allowing managers to see which of their employees are the most productive on the sales floor at which time of the day. Managers can then make better, more informed staffing decisions based on that information.
“Staffing issues also can be addressed in real time,” according to MicroStrategy. “If customer traffic is trending up on a certain day, the manager can adjust the schedule and avoid customer service issues. In the end, with these solutions in place, sales are saved, and inefficiencies are minimized.”
A mobile app also allows store associates to access a great deal of information — such as which items are in stock, at what size and in which color scheme — that a customer might like to know if they are considering purchasing an item. If a customer wants that hot, new pair of red running shoes in a 12.5 but they aren’t in stock, a sales associate can use the app to see that there’s a pair of 12.5 available at the store across town and arrange to have the pair held for the customer.
The app can also be used as a training tool for employees, too.
“By sharing valuable information with the right people at the right time, mobile apps can significantly empower store associates, while boosting their productivity,” according to MicroStrategy. “Employees can easily access training materials, videos and planograms. They also have the ability to view transfer data and markdown information.”
Mobile apps also save retailers the need for costly computers in the backroom so employees can access a lot of this information or the need to purchase pricey tablets for employees, as the apps can work directly with the employee’s own personal smartphone.
“Rather than pay for several PC terminals or laptops in the store, retailers can publish apps using mobile technology and push important information out to people’s personal devices,” according to Owen.