Unlocking the future of in-store shopping – with our phones

By Simon Hathaway, MD EMEA at Outform

Amazon Fresh still seems surreal (at least for some shoppers, for whom it feels a bit too closely like theft!). It’s a relatively new concept in the UK, with just three Amazon stores live at time of writing. But everything else surrounding the Fresh concept is already second nature, and the ‘scary’ surveillance associated with scan-and-go shopping could well be on the up beyond grocery.

Flying Tiger, for example, is integrating mobile checkouts across Europe, and with non-essential opening up in earnest, this iteration of contact-free shopping seems to make sense for staff and customers. Given that the tech is more ubiquitous than most shoppers realise, barriers to consumer uptake should be relatively low. It’s with retail that there’s work to be done.

Aisles of convenience

Using phones to browse in-store is nothing new. Common barriers to information in-store like price comparisons, product information and availability have driven shoppers to search their phones for quick answers as they scan aisles. But they’re not searching through the retailer – they’re going to third-party platforms.

Outform’s own research, which canvassed 2,000 respondents across mainland Europe, the UK and the US, found that 83% of shoppers use their phones to conduct in-store research – but just two-in-ten use retailers’ own apps. Yet proprietary apps have their own merits, such as store-by-store availability, but it’s still very much limited. If a desired item is out of stock across all stores, the customer journey with that retailer, through that owned app, has ended if no alternative is provided.

Customer demand has shifted dramatically through the pandemic (no news there), and those who are time-poor want the convenience they’re getting online, but in-store. That’s a tricky balancing act, and the most potent reason to treat on and offline as part of the same ecosystem, rather than separate channels. A unified commerce approach, where touchpoints move seamlessly across different channels – from category exploration to final transaction – will create a journey completely on a shopper’s own terms.

One great example of this is QR codes, which are an early – and still relevant – instance of bridging online with offline. As many as 40% of shoppers we surveyed believe they’re ‘the future of retail’, and it’s easy to see why – they give shelves the opportunity to become hubs of information, rather than just a plinth for your products.

Data sharing has the thumbs-up, so make the most of it

Integrating mobile functionalities in-store won’t just be a footfall driver because of convenience – it’s also one of the building blocks for a long-term relationship with shoppers.

Outform’s research shows that 91% of shoppers would be willing to share data with retailers, so long as their inboxes aren’t bombarded with marketing after the fact. Branded apps that customers can use to conduct in-store research and make a purchase, while simultaneously giving the brand permission to their data, offer insight on unique shopping habits: what categories are most frequently explored but not purchased, which products are they most likely to purchase on each visit, what add-ons could work for them?

A shopper’s own device can unlock a ‘digital handshake’ in-store, linking them to the shop or brand and delivering a single customer view through a unified commerce platform. This is the gateway to offering relevant product recommendations through shoppers’ phones, in real-time.

Some 56% of shoppers who already use apps in-store say they’d share data if it gave them access to perks like bespoke discounts. It’s an invaluable loyalty lever, and Morrisons has already greased the wheels by scrapping traditional plastic cards in favour of a personalised discounts app.

But for an accurate view, these apps must have far greater capabilities in the purchase journey. This means turning cluttered marketing into genuine utility: in-store promotional offers that every customer could once see – even if they only play a small part – can now become personalised perks on our phones.

Shoppers are looking to buy anytime, anywhere

The weighty till already feels archaic to a shopper on the move, and with the ubiquity of the buy-now button on social platforms, it’s time bricks-and-mortar stores enabled phone checkout. For convenience, sure, but it’s also key to attracting and reassuring the safety-conscious shopper.

Recent relaxation in COVID-19 restrictions has understandably left a significant chunk of shoppers uneasy. Integrating payment systems so a purchase is only ever a click away means that they can avoid large queues.

The post-pandemic shopper also craves instant gratification. Time spent trawling through aisles, often not receiving the information they really need, can be replaced by environments that merge data across different shopping channels. Shop floor staff can – and should – offer beneficial recommendations and solutions, but by the same token, so should our mobiles.

Customers are already willing to share data to gain access to personalised offers and convenient checkout experiences – now it’s on retailers to make that a reality. With an increasing number of smaller high street chains like MUJI and Flying Tiger already trialling mobile payment solutions, the impetus to innovate is now.

By Simon Hathaway, MD EMEA at Outform

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