Mobile strategies at retail

At this year's Store conference, panelists from Walmart, FGL Sports and Holt Renfrew discuss the integration of mobile in store.
Woman using smartphone or mobile phone

What does a customer want from a mobile shopping experience? The answer, as with many complicated questions, is that it depends. Retailers consider many different approaches when it comes to connecting with consumers, and there are divergent paths that can converge for success.

At yesterday’s Retail Council of Canada’s Store conference, FGL Sports, Holt Renfrew and Walmart examined the question in a panel on mobile’s role in retail and the challenges brands face when building strategies within their organization.

In particular, the panelists discussed whether it’s best to manage a mobile-optimized site or to build a mobile payment app.

“In apparel and sporting goods, we believe in the web experience,” says David Lui, VP, marketing, Mark’s and FGL Sports. He says that because of the seasonality of its products, constantly updating an app (versus managing a mobile-optimized site) is expensive, especially when its usage rates is lower than that of a QSR, a category that favours mobile payment apps.

“You should not have an app just to have an app,” says Rochelle Ezekiel, senior VP customer experience at Holt Renfrew, noting that it has to have significant utility for consumers. She used Starbucks’ Rewards app, that revolves around a loyalty program, as an example of providing utility that goes beyond payment.

Byron Ells, head of digital marketing, Walmart Canada concurred with Ezekiel: “There has to be strong utility and convenience.”

He also noted that one out of every two shopping journeys start with mobile web. And while there is opportunity for higher conversion with an app, it really depends on whether a brand repeatedly sells more of the same items, rather than a variety.

For luxury retail, Ezekiel said a $5,000 dollar handbag is a tough sell anywhere, except in store. What mobile can do, however, is provide inspiration to drive conversations, she says. “Sometimes you’re shopping when you don’t know you’re shopping,” she says, referring to the use of influencers on apps like Instagram. “We have to be present to make sure you know you can get that at our store. [Mobile] needs to be about an inspirational hook into the store.”

Ezekiel fears that there is an increasing lack of interaction between shoppers and sales associates. According to latest estimates cited by Ells, 53% of people shopping at a store will use their phones to find information online, versus asking for help from someone on the store floor. “Customers come in with their heads down when coming into the store. They’re not paying attention. And we need to provide both human connection and digital,” says Ezekiel.

She says store associates should be mobile-enabled in order to access real-time data. They should know if someone is a returning customer, she says, adding that it should not happen at the point of sale.

Lui adds that at Sportchek and Mark’s, customers frequently research its products prior to visiting a store, and so the challenge has been to enhance training so that its associates can keep up.

“Constant testing is required, until the formula is right,” he says, adding that what ultimately matters is how it provides speed, one-touch accessibility and fulfillment for conversions.

When it comes to social media and the in-store experience, Ezekiel says consumers in apparel are trying things and then seeking validation for the purchase from friends online. And retailers, she says, should be equipped to capitalize on that. Social media communication is planned in advance, but brands should be more agile, she says. Retailers should equip their sales associates to jump into conversations on-the-fly, as they’re happening online.