The new way retailers should think about ‘location, location, location’

Mobility is shaking up the way customers interact with merchants, but many firms still need to to boost their omni-channel presence. Be prepared to ask ‘Can I help you?’ from anywhere

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Retail omni-channel mobility

Retailers have always known that to succeed, they must prioritize three key elements: location, location and location. Yet one IT industry analyst has a different take on the old adage; he says it’s not the store’s location that matters—it’s the customer’s. That’s why mobile technologies play an increasingly important role in retail success, he says.

Ray Wang is the founder and principal analyst at Constellation Research. In a December webinar hosted by Retail TouchPoints, he said increasing competition and decreasing product margins compel retailers to do all they can to satisfy customers and improve revenues. One way for companies to meet that challenge is to connect with shoppers wherever they are.

Mobile technology is vital, Wang said. Consider this scenario: a shopper in a store seeks a specific item. She can’t find it and she doesn’t see any store staff to help. So she uses her smartphone to search the retailer’s website. What if the website not only listed the item, but could also pinpoint the location of the item in the store?

“We are eliminating the friction of having to find someone to help you,” Wang said.

Some retailers already use mobile technology to connect with in-store customers. A recent Techworld article notes that Apple installed sensors in its stores for this purpose. The sensors link to shoppers’ mobile devices and send alerts about special pricing and products seconds after customers have walked inside.

The Techworld story points out that Apple does this only for shoppers who’ve downloaded a special app and agreed to be located. By way of contrast, the article also notes the trouble Nordstrom faced. That company started tracking Wi-Fi signals from customers’ smartphones to learn more about foot-traffic patterns in its stores. It even posted signs to tell shoppers about the pilot project. But customers’ complaints about privacy invasion shut the whole thing down.

Lesson learned: it might not be enough for retailers to inform customers about location tracking; an opt-in system offers more reassurance.

Successful retailers also think beyond mobile, Wang said. Wireless technology enables customer-store connectivity, but that’s just one part of the system. Retail solutions have to involve software that analyzes client patterns, social media that improves shopper communication, and cloud computing that provides anytime, anywhere access to products and services.

These technologies help businesses stay in step with modern consumers—who may want to shop in person or online from nearly anywhere. When they begin with the client’s location, companies can truly focus on customers. That alignment can make a huge difference in an era of hyper-competitive, ultra low-margin retail.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles /

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