The Smartphone Shopping Experience Needs to Come Inside the Store

Let's Take Consumers By the Hand, Help Them Navigate in the Moment With Rewards and Advice

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Almost 55% of smartphone owners use their devices frequently while shopping in stores, according to Nielsen. Yet many retailers continue to focus their paid media on almost everything but the in-store experience, which could be their most powerful touch point.

Digital can't stop at the front door of the brick-and-mortar retail space but must follow the consumer inside. Retailers have to literally take the customer shopping, with a heightened level of active engagement in-store, by communicating with consumers on their device of choice (smartphone, tablet or both). There's huge potential to enrich the shopping experience, for both the customer and the marketer.

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Mobile and social messages can help consumers navigate the store, feel connected, and receive deals and rewards when they are most receptive. Marketers can empower consumers to share all facets of the purchase experience with their online communities on utilities like ShopSavvy, and send questions or complaints to store management while shopping. This provides the store with the real-time feedback it needs for amplifying the positives and quickly turning around the negatives. Customer-care programs will quickly move from e-mails and phone calls after the fact to smartphones and tablets in-store and in the moment.

Best Buy is an example of a brand elevating customer service by making tech advisers available through Twelpforce, Best Buy's customer-service Twitter handle. Still, it concentrates on the post-shopping -- as opposed to the in-store -- experience. Shopkick, a vendor that works with retailers like Macy's and Crate & Barrel, drives traffic and heightens loyalty by rewarding visits and purchases, but it doesn't focus on the in-store experience, either. Google is working with retailers like Ikea to map store layouts with Google Maps, to help visitors navigate the physical space more easily.

Employees are a retail store's best advocates. Having them walk the floor with tablets is critical for optimized customer service. This empowers them to work with Google Maps or Aisle 411, which gives aisle-by -aisle product information by store location and assist customers. Mobile and social also send messages on which registers have shortest lines, the best deals of the day and confirming what is in stock.

In do-it-yourself stores, mobile and social can help staff provide added inspiration as customers move from dreaming to planning to doing. In generalist stores, marketers can facilitate stronger cross- and up-selling as they guide consumers in-store. So, it's not just that the consumer bought a couch; she bought THIS couch. So, she might like or need THIS side table or THESE drapes.

In a digital world where consumers expect to have a brand conversation on their terms, retailers can no longer afford to rely solely on in-store television and radio for point-of -purchase needs. Navigating a big-box site is tough on consumers. Loyalty remains low, in part because retailers aren't personalizing and customizing the experience via the shopper's most trusted mobile/social device.

If brands and retailers use mobile and social to stay connected to the consumer, giving advice, showing them around the store and getting them the immediate help they need, then they are truly taking the consumer shopping and winning all the way through checkout.

Rick Acampora is managing partner, account director, MEC.
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