Mobile Engagement Puts the Customer First

By Chris Kozup, Chief Marketing Officer
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edelman-mobile-retail[2].jpegNot very long ago, we seemed well on the way toward embracing a shopping lifestyle where we would buy everything online without needing to leave our homes.

Or so it seemed.

That came to a screeching halt with the smartphone.  Instead of remaining at home, shoppers took advantage of the countless apps that developers created in the last decade to embrace an increasingly mobile lifestyle. One barometer of the change: Sales related to mobile commerce are expected to reach $123.1 billion this year, up 39.1% increase from 2015 and more than double the amount in 2014, according to eMarketer. For any organization that serves the public, particularly brick and mortar retailers, this shift in online behavior offers great opportunity but also calls for a carefully considered mobile engagement strategy.

When we visit shopping malls, hospitals or airports with our smart mobile devices, we benefit from information about that venue that's tailored to us personally -- the result of a mobile engagement strategy that combines mobile apps, contextual data and location-based services.

Your mobile engagement strategy should strive to meet a couple of goals:

  1. Learn about your customers. Knowing the day and time that customers visit and what they shop for is valuable knowledge that can help you put goods on the shelves when shoppers are most likely to purchase them.
  2. Give customers a better shopping experience. That will encourage them to use your app more frequently and keep them coming back for more.

You'll not only increase sales and profitability, but you'll also better serve your customers. However, this can turn into a balancing act. What customers want is useful information, provided in a straightforward, thoughtful way. However, many customers have issues that you must overcome. For example, some may have "app fatigue" and are only using a fraction of the many apps that they've loaded onto their smartphones. If you want to stand out from the crowd, your app will need to deliver plenty of value to separate it from the pack.

Another issue is security, and along with it, privacy.

Everyone is justifiably concerned about exposing personal data to a breach. A Nokia study found that more than 90 percent of global mobile users expressed some level of concern about threats to their device's security. Security experts warn that more apps on a phone also increases the potential attack surface: the more lines of code there are, the higher likelihood that there is going to be a security critical bug. That means your job is to implement airtight security and then communicate the steps you're taking so that customers will feel comfortable about trusting your app.

At the same time, when it comes to privacy, nobody likes to feel as if they are being tracked. But that's increasingly the case as businesses tap data about customer location of smartphone users. You need to make customers feel like they are in control of the experience by giving them a chance to opt in or out.

Once you've developed a winning mobile engagement strategy, you will need the right tools to execute it. If your building is relatively large, you'll want to consider deploying beacon technology. You'll also need a full-function, easy-to-use management application. Your store layout will change from time to time, so your app's map for guiding customers to the merchandise they seek will have to change also.

What does this look like in action? Nebraska Furniture Mart has done a great job, creating an app that enables a shopper to pinpoint any item in the store and follow turn-by-turn directions to find it. NFM used the powerful mapping feature of Aruba's Meridian SDK, in combination with electronic price tags for every item in the store. The tags contain information about the location of every product, while the Aruba beacon application guides the customer to the product. Using the Meridian interface, NFM staff can point and click to edit a map so the changes are reflected in the mobile app instantly. To get an idea how it works, check out this video clip.

We are still in the early stages of mobile engagement. Sensor technology and its close relative, big data, will open up new horizons in generating, analyzing and understanding information about customer behavior. But perhaps most importantly, customers will become accustomed to helpful mobile in-store apps and come to expect them wherever they go.

Then there will be no excuse whatsoever for not leaving the house.