There’s no denying the perception that online commerce is increasingly challenging traditional brick and mortar retail operations, providing not only the convenience of shopping anywhere at anytime but also allowing customers to easily compare prices in the eternal hunt for the best deal. The data seems to back this up. According to the Office of National Statistics, British in-store retail sales for February 2017 increased by a total of 3.7% as compared to February last year while online sales grew by 20.7% over the same period.

At a glance it could look like the continued growth of digital retail represents a real threat to the long term survival of the physical store. However, while it’s clear that ecommerce is on a continuing upward trend, online retail still only accounts for 15.3% of all retail sales. The value of the in-store experience clearly cannot be discounted. Despite the conveniences of mobile shopping, there’s still no substitute for being able to touch and interact with a product, not to mention having the knowledge and experience of a human being at hand in the form of a sales assistant. The store remains a core part of the retail experience but its relationship to the buyer is clearly in a state of evolution.

Forward thinking retailers are beginning to realise that instead of seeing online and in-store retail as competing sectors of their business, the relationship between the two needs to be reframed as a synergistic partnership and a potentially powerful one at that. The ready access to information provided by mobile apps opens up new channels for customer engagement and support, enriching and expanding the in-store experience in ways that can both drive sales and increase positive associations with the retailer’s brand and product.

In-store push notifications

Mobile engagement begins at the store entrance. Push notifications can welcome the shopper to the store, prompt them to launch the app to view the location of products saved to a wishlist, give suggestions for in-store products they may like based on past purchases or display reminders of any available loyalty credits. Encouraging customers to instinctively turn to the app when they enter the store to guide their shopping journey by providing useful information tailored to their shopping habits helps them to quickly find what they’re interested in and to discover new products that complement ones they already own.

A tailored shopping experience using beacon technology

Still relatively new the true potential of beacon technology is still to be unleashed. A simple way to engage shoppers when it matters could be to push product reviews to the user’s device at the exact moment they need them, helping the shopper make a more confident and informed purchase decision. Using a shopper’s online profile to inform them immediately if the item being viewed is in stock in their size could help close a sale where the challenge of finding and asking a sales assistant in a busy store might lead to a missed opportunity.

Mobile assistance in the changing room

The ability to try on clothing before deciding to buy is one clear, big advantage a physical store has over its online counterpart. Conversely the changing room can also be the most frustrating part of an offline shopper’s shopping experience. Having to put your clothes back on to go out and find a different size or color and then wait in line again to try it on or repeatedly shouting to a sales assistant to ask for help is not particularly enjoyable. Having a request for assistance feature built into your app can make it simple for a customer to discreetly ask a tablet equipped sales assistant for another size or color thus increasing the likelihood of a sale by removing customer discomfort and resistance to this part of the shopping process.

Mobile POS

Long checkout lines can be a deterrent to the most determined of shoppers. Allowing customers to use your app to scan and buy their products on their phone can confer a big advantage, especially in situations where only one or two items are being purchased but the store is busy. Giving customers the power to scan items as they shop and then easily check out ensures they spend less time waiting and complete their purchases more quickly. This can also reduce costs for the retailer with a decreased need for checkout staff and equipment and creates more free floor space for merchandising and product display.

Online incentives for offline loyalty

Rewarding shoppers for using the app in-store is an easy way to create customer loyalty and reinforce the offline/online relationship. Offering customers an in-store discount for checking in on Facebook encourages them to shop while also providing marketing exposure via their social media network. Giving loyalty points for simply setting foot in the store or posting their purchase online allows the customer to engage with your business through both channels without placing those channels in competition.

As the technology develops and as shoppers start to see the value of an integrated shopping experience the demand for retailers to engage them online in the physical space will only increase. Establishing the online channel as an integral part of the offline shopping experience and developing innovative and creative ways to do this will set the successful retailers apart from the rest. Far from signalling the end of the traditional brick and mortar shopping experience, the use of mobile technology to create a reimagined in-store experience is a sign of its rebirth.

NN4M is the largest provider of transactional retail apps and mobile solutions in the UK.  
Our in-house team combines world-class development, design, usability and engineering talent to create, manage and optimise award-winning transactional mobile applications, transforming the way people shop one app at a time.