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The Green Sheet Online Edition

March 23, 2015 • Issue 15:03:02

The Mobile Buzz:
Every second counts

In the past, merchants could rely on a longer window of opportunity to capture sales once customers entered stores. But today, mobile-informed customers often have decided exactly what to purchase, and at what price, before they set foot in brick-and-mortar locations. Thus, merchants must now learn to swiftly and effectively work with such predetermined expectations, or risk having customers walk away empty-handed.

Fortunately, there are ways to do just that. "Mobile technology enables retailers to break down barriers between the digital environment and the physical store," said Ken Morris, Principal at retail consultancy Boston Retail Partners. "Advancements in mobile capabilities are driving retailers to upgrade and replace technology to keep ahead of the competition and keep up with their very informed technology-savvy customers."

One way to meet customer demands and, in turn, drive more sales is to equip sales associates with mobile devices connected wirelessly on the sales floor. According to Boston Retail Partners, in-store mobility has become an indispensable tool for guided selling. Quite literally, what it does is transfer the digital experience to the physical store experience, but with an added layer that digital doesn't deliver: the human element.

BRP reported that putting mobile devices in the hands of store associates enables inventory look-up, enterprise-wide, even for products that are not immediately available. It also supports customer assistance and transaction processing anywhere on the sales floor. One caveat with this direct approach is that each associate must be professionally trained to avoid alienating customers. That way when a customer does need in-store assistance, mobile-enabled associates can help deliver a positive shopping experience.

Are payments the next killer app?

BRP also analyzed what factors could potentially propel mobile retail technology moving forward. It found that leading with payment apps could prove pivotal in converting merchants to mobile options. "In the payments arena, mobile payments could become the next 'killer app' for mobile devices, much like what iTunes did for music," Morris noted.

Right now the number of merchants who can accept near field communication (NFC) or contactless payments is limited. "According to our recent POS/Customer Engagement Benchmarking Survey, 10 percent of retailers support NFC payments today, and an additional 35 percent of retailers plan to support NFC by October 2015 (which is a key deadline for EMV)," stated BRP in its latest findings.

When BRP asked North American retailers to name their top POS system priorities within the next two years, mobile solutions for sales associates topped the list (56 percent), followed by omnichannel integration (49 percent) and mobile POS solutions (43 percent).

In advancing mobile POS initiatives, it is important to understand potential merchant hurdles. According to BRP, retailers seem most concerned about selecting the right mobile technology when the vendor landscape is constantly changing. This is something ISOs and merchant level salespeople (MLSs) can address when encouraging merchants to upgrade and integrate new systems.

Another hurdle for merchants is the ability to update back-end systems to support mobile POS capabilities. To alleviate this pain point, merchant acquirer tech support teams can offer merchants guidance throughout the integration process. Merchants also need assurance that the return on investment and total cost of ownership will justify the expense. Acquirers should make clear the realistic expectations with each of these items, BRP noted.

What is next on mobile horizon?

Mobile POS systems have much to offer beyond payments. Customer-facing mobile services are equally worthy of consideration from an ISO and MLS perspective. BRP estimates that within the next three years 224 percent more retailers will use geolocation, 165 percent more merchants will offer personalized recommendations via mobile technology and 224 percent more will implement mobile loyalty identification.

Merchants using customer-facing mobile services reported the following as the top services utilized: digital catalogs, mobile rewards and loyalty programs, product information, shopping lists, past purchase visibility, and smartphone apps. But they had mixed views on how well each of these services actually performed.

This means ample room exists for improvement in mobile POS services overall. Innovative vendor partners today should seize the opportunity to augment traditional checkout counters with mobile-empowered sales associates and introduce customer-facing mobile services to help empower merchants to close more sales, improve work flow and, in the long term, build strong customer loyalty. end of article

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