Retail Technology Trends: Mobile Emerges as Industry Pillar for the New Customer Experience

17. November 2017.

Retail technology trends are evolving, and today’s consumers are choosing mobile apps that streamline the brick-and-mortar shopping experience. In the past, mobile devices might have been used to research purchases at home before making purchases in store, but now mobile is emerging as a retail industry pillar in its own right, and retailers are blurring the distinction between the mobile and in-store customer experience.

According to Retail Dive, 51 percent of consumers want to use retailers’ in-app mobile payment features for faster brick-and-mortar purchases. Retail TouchPoints also reports that 54 percent of consumers use devices to compare prices while shopping, and 48 percent of shoppers research product information on their devices while in the store. Indeed, the smartest mobile retail technology today includes apps that guide the entire in-store purchase experience.

The data-driven case for more extensible retail apps

Across global markets, smartphone users’ time spent engaged with apps far outpaces mobile browser usage. App Annie reports US smartphone users spend 87 percent of their mobile time in apps. Not only are apps more engaging, they’re also more likely to drive conversions and purchases.

While people are spending more time using apps, they’re unlikely to download those that offer only one or two features. Though App Annie reports analysts project time spent in-app will exceed three trillion hours by 2021, Mashable reports year-over-year app downloads declined 20 percent. Consumers want retailer apps that streamline the entire experience — from product research to mobile checkout — and there’s immense opportunity for apps that engage customers throughout their journey.

Creating a unified, mobile-first experience

James Meeks, the outgoing head of mobile product at J.C. Penney Co., recently discussed creating a “unified,” mobile-driven customer experience. This includes removing distinctions between the in-store and mobile experience by adding features for price-checking and one-step payment. Meeks aspired to make the process so streamlined that a customer wouldn’t need to do anything out of the ordinary to make a purchase.

Target’s recent decision to provide Bluetooth-enabled carts that act as in-store GPS through beacon retail technology is another visible move toward a unified, mobile-first experience. The app entices customers to use it throughout the entire shopping experience with personalized discounts and a 5 percent discount at checkout for using in-app mobile payment offerings.

Is AI the next necessity for retail technology?

Though friction-free, in-app mobile payments are trending in the retail realm, many brands are working to incorporate post-app technologies such as chatbots and virtual assistants to enhance the brick-and-mortar experience.

Sephora’s new Color Match is a conversational interface that helps in-store shoppers access cosmetic recommendations based on a selfie, according to Retail Dive. Levi Strauss & Co. has also announced a messenger-based virtual personal stylist that will help shoppers navigate denim fits while shopping. Artificial intelligence can be a highly personalized way to engage shoppers while driving customer satisfaction and app adoption.

Retailers can’t delay mobile payment rollouts

Many customers prefer to pay for purchases within retailer apps over universal mobile wallets when they believe the retailer apps are more trustworthy — and they offer a potential for reward.

Geekwire reports Starbucks’ mobile payment option now accounts for 30 percent of its total transactions. The demand for customer rewards, exclusive deals and coupon redemption features drives skyrocketing adoption of in-app mobile payment at Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, Walmart and other retailers. Researcher Chris Tweedt tells Retail Dive in-app mobile payments are a necessity, and late adopters could “miss the opportunity to influence retail payment experience and obtain insights from adopters’ purchase and app usage behavior.”

Creating a mobile app that will act as a retail pillar requires integration of disparate systems, offering features that support customer interactions with the brand on mobile, desktop and in store. With the help of mobile payments, chatbots and other smart features, retailers can provide an app-first mobile experience from product research to purchase that feels personalized and seamless.

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