In-store digitisation: How to get closer at a distance

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Retail & Distribution

12 January 2021

Mobile devices are the key to retail staff and customers getting closer whilst staying at a safe distance. Armed with a smartphone or tablet, store associates can handle a variety of customer-facing needs – stock check online without having to go into the stock room, access product information, process payments and issue digital receipts, upsell by accessing complementary items, issue digital gift vouchers, process a click and collect order or a web from store order, get a customer’s digital signature etc..

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This new generation of store associate thus becomes a super salesperson, customer service assistant, stock checker, online order processor, all rolled into one, and able to move from task to task, role to role easily and quickly.

There are two sides to this revolution; the front end or user experience (UX) and the data and services that support them. At the front, the user interface must be convenient as well as easy for staff to use without too much training, ideally using layouts and app capabilities that will be familiar to them from their own smartphones. And at the back end, this mobile POS must complement rather than interrupt a perfect customer experience, and this will require mobile content, data, communications and payments, concentrated on a single device.

The mobile device then becomes the bridge between online and the store, critical for two important reasons, the first being that over 70% of shopping journeys will have started online. The second is that, post Covid-19, the store will assume new roles – as a pickup point for online orders, a stockless showroom, a mini warehouse – enabling customers to maintain the distance that suits them.

The next logical development, which we are already starting to see, is a shift from staff to consumer devices. Consumers are already taking greater control of their retail life, to the extent they can often match store associates on product knowledge, price comparisons, delivery options and returns policies. We anticipate more and more consumers devices linked to sales associates’ devices as well as 1 device per sales associate if the crisis continues.

Retailers have embraced this by issuing their own customer apps, which in the case of Nike and H&M, have had enthusiastic take up, and are additionally ideal in post-lockdown scenarios as consumers continue to avoid personal interactions. Switching from customer to staff devices then becomes easy where they are operating over a shared network.

Ultimately, mobile technology solves the problem for retailers of trying to work out the right balance of on and offline. Clearly under threat in terms of total numbers, the store is however reinventing itself with new roles to complement the old, all enabled by mobile technology.

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