The role of mobile in retail has gotten bigger and wider in the last few years. Mobile is not just a platform for consumers to browse and purchase products, but has grown to provide an immersive experience using Augmented Reality (AR). Mobile empowers store associates to enhance productivity and provide a personal experience to their customers. Mobile is not just limited to the smartphone, either; it is an ecosystem of devices that provides a connected experience. These devices include voice assistants, smart speakers, microwaves, camera bells, home security, kitchen appliances, dash cams etc.
Below are 7 trends that demonstrate how mobile is playing a key role to power consumers and retailers.
1. Voice Commerce
More than 100 million Alexa devices have been sold so far. From TVs to speakers, cars to refrigerators, we interact with Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant through all sorts of devices. This trend is not slowing down; we are going to see these voice assistants become integrated in many more devices. These assistants provide a new medium through which consumers can connect to brands and purchase products. Voice assistants are good for reordering consumables that users are already familiar with (i.e., where customers don’t need to see pictures or read reviews).
Voice commerce is a lot different from desktop or mobile app commerce, where users can see product descriptions, view promotions, read reviews, and view product images. Voice commerce is complex, and its UX must be designed from scratch. It can also complement a user’s online shopping experience by allowing him/her to ask about an order status, available offers, or to know his/her reward points. Adding a screen to these assistants can take the shopping experience to the next level.
2. Augmented Reality (AR)
For the past several years, Augmented Reality (AR) has been a buzz word with not much success in Retail. The launch of Apple’s ARKit and Google’s ARCore made it possible to provide immersive AR experiences on smartphones. Gartner predicts that, by 2020, 100 million consumers will shop via AR, both online and in-store. Ikea was one of the first retailers to adopt AR, and Wayfair soon followed. With the retailers’ apps, customers can measure a room in their house and “place” furniture in it. AR can also be used in these other retail use-cases:
- Virtual Fitting Rooms: Try on products like shoes, jewellery, make-up etc. (Nike, Puma, and Sephora are already doing this). A Smart Mirror can also help customers virtually try on clothes, change colour options, and then order products right from the mirror.
- Product Demos & Information: Point your phone’s camera at a product to see details and price information, view a demo, and get further recommendations.
- Product installation: Point your phone’s camera at a product’s QR code to view a step-by-step installation guide.
This is just a beginning, more and more retailers will come up with great immersive AR experiences.
Consumers are demanding more personalised experiences across all retail touch points, from product discovery, to product purchase, to post-purchase services. They are willing to share meaningful data that retailers can use to provide better product recommendations and contextual offers.
Enormous progress has been made in the field of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) over the past few years to help create accurate models and provide personalised shopping experiences. By applying AI and ML to enormous data, retailers will be able to predict what their customers want before the customers themselves know. Retailers can then provide all this meaningful data to store associates via a mobile app and thereby empower associates to help customers choose the right product and be a part of their shopping journey.
4. Experiential Retailing
Most physical stores have not been able to meet customers’ changing expectations, and they were dying one after another. Customers love to shop in physical stores, but they demand a better experience. Retailers that are not able to understand these expectations and adapt to them will collapse. Meanwhile, E-commerce players like Amazon, Warby Parker, and Casper Mattress have opened their own physical stores to provide an unparalleled retail experience. These stores don’t just sell products; they provide opportunities to connect with consumers and tell their brand story.
Experience Retailing is the new trend where consumers come to a store to interact with a product, hangout with friends, and then can make purchases through a variety of channels. Products are equipped with smart displays or tablets to show product information and videos. Customers can also make a purchase through these tablets and have a product shipped to their home. These tablets also capture analytics about how customer interacts with a product and its information. By intelligently using technology, stores empower their associates to assist customers personally and create “aha!” moments for them. Before talking to a customer, an associate will already know his/her preferences in order to provide personal assistance.
A great example of Experiential Retailing is Toys R Us. Back in 2017, Toys R Us filed bankruptcy and closed nearly all 800 of its stores. Now the retailer has partnered with a startup called B82a to provide a new type of toy shopping experience for families. In these smaller flagship stores, kids can check out new toys, watch movies, participate in STEAM workshops, and more. After getting hands-on experience with their products, Toys R Us will offer families an opportunity to make purchases both in-store and direct online.
5. Same-Day Delivery
Consumers are no longer satisfied with a 2-day delivery. They demand more — they demand products now. Retailers are trying hard to speed up delivery time to same-day or even just a few hours. For example, Amazon will start delivering products by drones within a few hours after order is placed. Soon this will expand to other retailers and even food delivery. By 2020, same-day delivery will be the new normal. Customers will go to stores to try on a product, choose home delivery, and the the product will be shipped to home the same day.
6. BOPUS & Stores as Fulfilment Centres
“Buy online & pick-up from store” (BOPUS) has already seen enormous success. This trend will continue to spread across most retailers. This is a very important aspect of providing an omnichannel experience, and retailers must make sure their BOPUS customers can pick up their products as quickly as possible. Measures they can take include providing reserved parking / store entries, moving their pickup point closer to the store entry, or providing pickup lockers outside the stores.
Retailers have also started fulfilling online orders from their physical stores to speed up delivery time. Same-day delivery from Amazon has pressured brick-and-mortar retailers to use their physical stores at full capacity. Instead of building new warehouses near every city, retailers will utilize their stores as fulfilment centres. To make associates more effective, retailers are also revamping their in-store technology by implementing smart apps, RFID inventory counting, mobile checkouts, etc.
7. Seamless Multi-Channels Experience
Retailers need to provide a seamless experience across their online and offline channels. Gone are the days when offline and online channels worked in silos. Customers often start their journey on mobile and end up making a purchase on desktop or in physical stores. Customers expect a unified experience from retailers; they want knowledgeable store associates who can help them find the product they saw on their mobile app.
Consumers have fundamentally changed. Their engagement with new technologies and digital services has driven their expectations up higher and higher. They’re now demanding useful, engaging, and assistive experiences from all the brands they interact with. Retailers are going through a major digital transformation to meet the expectations of demanding customers, and they should seriously consider these trends and align their digital strategy to keep mobile as a key driver.