This is a guest post by Jeff Hasen, a mobile strategist, chief marketing officer, and founder of consultancy Gotta Mobilize, which advises brands around the world.
Retailers will spend the next month desperately trying to speak to consumers, as often as they can, with the right kind of action-inspiring messages.
But as recent research shows, many of those retailers' would-be shoppers aren't going to be listening.
Sure, a meaningful segment of consumers are still reachable via mass mediums like television and print, and others purchase on desktops where brands can reach them with targeted ads. However, more and more consumers live in mobile-device-enabled self-sufficiency, accessing product information, user reviews, and show-rooming opportunities without engaging with the brand at all.
According to a report released by the Consumer Electronics Association, more than 58 percent of shoppers who use mobile devices indicated that they prefer to look up information on their devices while shopping, rather than talk to store employees. Nearly two-thirds (62 percent) of mobile shoppers perceived the information they gather via their mobile device as more beneficial than the information available in-store via product displays or sales literature.
What's a retailer to do? Through conversations with mobile and business pioneers interviewed for my book, The Art of Mobile Persuasion, I surfaced five ways that brick-and-mortar businesses can evolve their operations to meet the challenges of the 2015 holiday selling season--and beyond.
1. Don't ignore mobile; integrate it.
Sean Bartlett, Director of Digital Experience, Product, & Omni-channel Integration at Lowe's, led an initiative by the chain to put 42,000 iPhones into the hands of sales associates as a way to help customers get a more satisfying experience from its iPhone app. The intent: to create a virtuous circle by enabling salespeople to help their customers.
How? By use of Lowe's "product locator" mobile technology. Lowe's customers can find over 100 million precise, in-store product locations and store services via customized, interactive maps displayed on their smartphones. A big deal when a store generally reaches 100,000 square feet.
2. Personalize the experience.
My sister-in-law and I both shop in REI, but we couldn't be more different. And REI's app knows this. An ideal hike for me is a walk to a quiet area with a running stream and birds singing. The distance is secondary. My sister-in-law is a former triathlete and still is more active than 95 percent of people half her age. She hikes for full days. I want REI to provide the basics so I don't get mosquito bites or a blister. My sister-in-law wants to know how and where the hiking shoes were made, and whether they will withstand heavy use.
Through in-app, in-store messaging from REI that both of us opt-in to receive, each of us gets treated as individuals, not as part of some homogenized customer database. The ads, notifications, and promotions I receive are unique to my preferences.
3. Deploy mobile as a customer service tool.
In retail establishments like REI, the human touch will always be emphasized. The company's famed Green Vests, with their broad expertise, have been a differentiator. Now REI looks at mobile devices as a complementary customer service tool. For their loyal users, the app can become an additional shopping companion in store.
Said Jeff Klonowski, REI's Director, Digital Retail - Mobile & Business Development: "We create a sort of in-store mode to work when someone is in the physical retail store. Then you are saying, 'You popped into the REI app in-store. Here's a special feature set. And by the way, you did look at this item? Here's where it's at in the physical store. Do you want more information? Can we lead you to it?'" For REI, a mobile device can be a personal shopping assistant.
4. Don't cross the privacy line.
Different types of information elicit different levels of sensitivity among Americans, according to a report by the Pew Research Center's Internet Project. Social security numbers are universally considered to be the most sensitive piece of personal information, followed by health information and content of phone conversations. Media tastes and purchasing habits are among the least sensitive categories of data.
Still, there is a creepiness factor at play when an advertiser or retailer reaches out to someone with information that the recipient views as invasive. There was large disagreement among those I interviewed about where the line is. Some thought reaching out to someone in store the day after that person viewed an item online is fair game. Others thought it becomes creepy if the outreach spans too much time. The prevailing opinion: practice a policy that falls well short of the invasion line.
5. Redefine fulfillment.
Amazon has led the product delivery evolution, bringing options such as same-day delivery that raise consumer expectations. What could brick-and-mortar businesses do to ignite excitement and anticipation around the moment a customer finally receives his or her item? The wise brick-and-mortar retailers will provide choice: facilitating curbside pickup, sending alerts when an item is ready, notifying upon shipment.
Smartphones make customers smarter. While some retailers may feel threatened by the autonomy that a mobile device provides to a customer, successful physical retailers will embrace mobile as a tool that supplements what they are already doing-customer service, personalization, fulfillment-to serve their customers in their store(s). The end result: better overall engagement that drives loyalty-and sales.