Adam Davidson in a recent New York Times article writes about a disappointing shopping experience at Ikea. He had such a terrible experience, driven by less than par customer service that he didn’t return to the retailer forMobile Shopping & Brick and Mortar Retail about five years. 5 years later when he went back he noticed that something had changed- because of better in-store management software, more staffs were present in relevant places where customers might require the most help. In the end Davidson contemplates whether even more sophisticated technology could actually help in-store retail staff to go beyond just being in the right place, and actually better do their job.

Davidson’s experience is not unique, and I am sure that all of us at one point or another have been to a store that for various reasons- we just can’t stand. This usually results in us avoiding that retailer at all costs, or at least until absolutely necessary. Perhaps mobile’s role in reconciling situations such as these has been somewhat overlooked. Although mobile retail is making traction: in-store mobile convergence is still missing and remains virtually unnoticed as a way to increase in-store staff productivity and ultimately sales.

Technology is the customer service enabler

Most staff in a retail store can be found at the POS, processing cash and credit cards, putting things in bags and passing over a receipt. But, with technologies on the move, such as mobile POS’s, self-check-outs and Bluetooth Low Energy (the technology behind Beacons), eventually less staff could be required when the customer is already finished their shopping.

BLE for example, enables a check-in by mobile phone, so that customers can be tracked through their purchasing path while in-store. Checked in customers can receive coupons, make payments and get digital receipts, meaning that less time and staff would be needed at the POS. Shorter transaction times, could also nix long lines and waiting times, which I’m sure both staff and customers would appreciate.

What’s more, BLE would enable store staff to start preparing orders while a customer is still browsing, and even identify store traffic patterns, so that staffing could be done strategically to deliver more customer service or product information in the busier sections. Imagine though if employees also checked in with BLE? Tasks and responsibilities could instead be delegated by mobile phone rather than in person, saving the time required to manage and hunt employees down.

Click and collect, a smart commerce system that also enables staff to provide a better level customer experience, is also making inroads amongst many retailers including: Zara, Sephora, KFC, McDonald’s and grocers like Carrefour City. Because the customer checks in on the way to pick up an order, which has been placed before arriving at the store, employees have the order prepared, packaged and ready for pick-up when the customer arrives. There is no transaction processed in-store, instead the customer just shows their order confirmation number, and gets on their way.

The death of the Shopping Mall

A lot of the talks surrounding the recent NRF conference centered on the changing role of the brick & mortar shopping store. Rick Caruso, owner of 3 shopping malls, in an opening address at the NRF 2014, claimed the “shopping mall is dead,” one of the big reasons one has not been built in the US since 2006. This reminds us just how drastically the retail store is changing because of new digital shopping trends, which inherently means that the role/tasks of in-store retail employees should also be changing too. The solution, like Davidson realized when visiting Ikea again after 5 years is- technology. Customers equipped with a mobile phone, will eventually want different kinds of customer services in-store, a nail that has yet to be fully hit on the head.

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