Retail’s mobile revolution

Across the illy Caffè on London’s Regent Street, you will find Samsung UD46C videowalls and Galaxy mobile devices developing a new retail concept where the physical and digital experiences have no boundaries.

Now such immersive technology is being replicated across the globe in the luxury-goods sector. Customers who walk into Burberry’s London flagship store, for example, will have a similar experience to those in Beijing, with tablets available for a modern form of window browsing, large format displays that become mirrors when RFID-tagged items come near and a single epic videowall that showcases Burberry’s designs.

The British fashion designer’s move to bridge the divide between its digital and high street stores appears to have given its coffers a boost too. Its latest results show pre-tax profits were up 8 per cent, hitting £461 million.

Data indicates that innovative, technology-led strategies are working. Out of all retailers, apparel sellers are faring considerably better than other high street outlets. KPMG and the British Retail Consortium (BRC) retail sales monitor for May show that clothing was the best performing category, reporting its highest growth since December 2011.

But the UK high street as a whole still needs a boost. The number of people entering shops on the high street dropped 1.4 per cent this April, according to recent figures from the BRC, while UK retail sales as a whole grew only 0.5 per cent in May. To turn this around, those not in the clothing industry might want to take a leaf out of fashion’s book and invest in technology that makes the customer experience that much better.

Major retailers have started to add features to their mobile apps that combine the convenience of e-commerce with the personal touch of in-store shopping

There is one area every industry is now expected to address and retail is no exception – mobile. “For this market, apps are going to be a real game-changer, both in the hands of staff and customers,” says Graham Long, vice president of Samsung’s Enterprise Business Team.

“It’s about taking a store that someone wants to go into and, once they’re in, making sure the retailer has the technology to give customers that amazing experience with the same convenience as shopping online. Once inside the store, it’s important that businesses create retail theatre,” he says.

Major retailers have started to add features to their mobile apps that combine the convenience of e-commerce with the personal touch of in-store shopping. These include “push” messages with location-based offers and product suggestions, as well as stock data and shopping lists linked to store maps to make shopping far more efficient.

In Kenzo’s Beijing store, customers can use their own Samsung mobile phones to scan an item to find product information. And there are novel approaches to customer retention via mobile too.

As mobile payments gain traction, transactions can take place throughout the store with much greater ease. In the most efficient of retailers, this will mean seller and customer mobiles combining.

PayPal has been trialling Beacon, which is an app that uses Bluetooth to check known customers in as soon as they enter the store, with a vibration notifying them and a photo appearing on the seller’s device to ensure it’s the right person. When the customer has chosen a product, the merchant only needs to scan the item with their mobile, as payments are automated through the buyer’s PayPal account.

To further enhance the customer experience, data analytics coming from back-end systems can be funnelled through to shop assistants’ mobiles. Samsung’s display team, working with a solutions provider, has recently demonstrated a facial recognition and customer-profile system.

As soon as a customer enters the store, their gender and age can be quickly determined by the software. The system can learn more about their habits as they browse and it can acquire a proper understanding of the shopper’s needs when in-store. This can then be pushed through to salespeople’s mobiles or tablets so they know how best to serve the customer.

It’s all part of how retailers are exploiting big data, says Philip Oldham, head of marketing at the Samsung Enterprise Business Team. “There are so many possibilities to collect, enrich and develop data across all the touchpoints in a retail business, right the way from design through manufacturing to stocking and inventory to post-sales. It’s these new devices and the surge in M2M (machine-to-machine) communications that are really enabling big data to become even more powerful,” he says.

Smartphones and tablets can create efficiencies right across the supply chain. Smartphone software can do scanning, GPS tracking and other functions, currently carried out by single-purpose machines, in a much more flexible and user-friendly way.

By deploying the same mobiles to the entire workforce, businesses should be able to rely on tighter integration between departments and easy transfer of data from the backroom to the shop floor.

“At Samsung, we are excited at the thought of workforces having devices that are all loaded with an app that can communicate live business updates that will essentially improve the way the business is run,” says Judith Swan, Samsung retail sales manager.

“An example of this could be messages being shared between a shop-floor manager, stock-room manager and the store manager. If someone orders a pair of shoes with the shop-floor manager, they can instantly communicate this to other employees and the stock-room manager, and give an instant response which can be relayed to the customer there and then. This is what we mean when we talk about technology improving back-office functions with the ultimate goal of improving the customer experience.”

Retailers don’t have to rely solely on smartphones or tablets. Wearables are becoming increasingly attractive for businesses. Soon retailers are expected to rollout smartwatches to carry out daily operations, such as barcode-scanning and price-checking.

The good news is that almost all retailers know technology will be the key to helping them grow in the future. In a survey carried out by Samsung among UK retailers, 94 per cent say the customer experience of the future will be driven by technology, while 69 per cent say they already use it to differentiate themselves from competitors. With such understanding of the problem, the future of the high street looks brighter than it has done for years.

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