This is a guest post by Richard Smullen, CEO of Pypestream
E-commerce versus in-store. The battle rages on. And the favor may be shifting the way of e-commerce, with more and more people buying from their phone, and sales on smartphones expected to surge from $3 billion in 2010 to $31 billion in 2016. Coupled with the significant concern that showrooming poses for retail store owners, and you can be forgiven for fearing the days of the retail store are numbered. But before the doomsday-sayers get too carried away, let’s not forget, where there’s struggle there is also opportunity.
The saturation of mobile has also lead to a prolific rise in popularity for mobile messaging. In fact, we are now in a world where mobile messaging and texting is the most preferred communication method, and this happens to be one of the most exciting opportunities for innovation in the retail sector. Why is that? Well, a first-class in-store experience is a competitive advantage that’s unmatchable online and on mobile devices (at least until virtual reality hits its peak), and it’s an advantage that can be significantly leveraged with mobile messaging.
In light of this, here are the 3 big opportunities mobile messaging offers the retail space.
1. Bridging the technological gap with virtual customer service in-store
Mobile messaging has already proven to be an effective sales driver for brands. Timberland used in-store mobile messaging in 2014 with impressive results. Using the indoor mobile marketing platform Swirl to deliver promotional content and drive foot traffic from passers-by, Timberland found in-store messaging influenced a significant number of customers to actually buy more.
But there’s even greater potential to use mobile messaging for customer service.
When retailers implement mobile messaging as an extension of their customer service approach, they can effectively place a virtual assistant in the pocket of every customer who walks into the store. Think of messaging as a means to provide a responsive mobile FAQs page to shoppers, ready to answer any questions and solve problems as they arise.
Of course, it’s not dissimilar to showrooming shoppers using Google to search for product information while they are in-store. But the difference is the interaction level. Mobile messaging supports human interaction; an important element that search engines obviously lack. Additionally, mobile messaging can also drive traffic back to stores by alleviating the problems associated with poor and inexperienced customer service reps. When used effectively, mobile messaging can supplement, or potentially replace, the role of scarce service reps who have very little product information.
When mobile messaging is used as a value-add (not a replacement) to a store’s customer service team, they can maintain this human element across all points of customer service. With this rounded approach, the retail store can then appeal to a wide variety of shopper profiles and remain relevant in an increasingly technology-driven climate.
2. Streamlining the shopper’s purchasing journey in-store
There are some companies already using mobile effectively in-store to improve the customer experience. Generally, the strategy is to streamline the customer’s purchase journey or provide promotions or discounts at specific times. Mobile messaging can be used in much the same way but in a more simplistic, intuitive manner, to make the shopper’s transaction even more effortless.
Mobile messaging opens a unique connection between shoppers and retailers. The ability for shoppers to send quick, byte-size messages to retailers and receive a response in real time can help them get what they want more efficiently. Retailers can use this technology to their advantage by helping shoppers discover products, assist with product comparisons in-store and online, finalizing the purchase with payment-enabled processing and then even delivering the receipt for the shopper to show upon exiting the store. This in-store interaction trend is not altogether new, either. There’s already an interesting rise in the use of beacon technology to personalize the in-store shopping experience to drive sales. Mobile messaging can be used in much the same way – playing a monumental role in the shopper’s in-store journey.
3. Extending the in-store experience beyond the walls of the store
Apple is famous for its brilliant in-store experience. The modern, open-air design coupled with energetic shop assistants hyper-focused on solving customer problems makes it an experience all on its own. Imagine if this experience could be extended beyond the walls of the store. Mobile messaging has the potential to do this and ensure the connection between shoppers and retailers is not limited to the confines of the store itself.
With mobile messaging the tangible surroundings of the store may be lost but the human connection can be maintained, an important factor for customer relationship management. And it’s the relationship with the consumer that is the key driver in generating business success. Retail stores using mobile messaging to their advantage can cultivate meaningful interactions with customers to get timely feedback requests, product updates, or additional information to help customers get the most out of their purchase. Not unlike email, except mobile messaging supports more effective, real-time dialogue, which is much more aligned with today’s communication trends.
The customer experience can be drastically improved using mobile messaging – from the moment the customer enters the store, to purchase, and even once they’ve left. There may always be shoppers who prefer buying online, as will there be those customers preferring bricks and mortar stores. But for the retailers worried about showrooming shoppers, the rise of mobile, and the potential of ecommerce sales putting retail stores out of business, it’s time they embraced the fact that there’s far more opportunity in technology than threat.
Richard Smullen has over 15 years experience in the technology industry, launching and selling multiple businesses since 1999. Prior to launching Pypestream he served as co-founder and CRO of Genesis Media LLC, a multimedia, real-time video advertising platform founded in 2011 through the merger of AdGenesis and Castle Vision Media.
Richard is also a member of the NYC chapter of the Young Presidents’ Organization and the founder of New York-based global equity and VC fund, South Winston LLC, developing businesses in media, technology and entertainment.