Starting a Mobile Strategy in the Retail Space

By Vladik Rikhter

Mobile Strategy - hand on tablet
Photo by Hernán Piñera, via Flickr

Today’s smartphones are powerful tools that solve everyday problems for customers and business professionals alike. In our experience, the best mobile strategies have two sides: one that faces the customer and one that faces the retailer for internal operations.

Let’s explore some of the components of each side, which can help you determine your own needs in starting a mobile strategy.

Customer Facing: Branded apps

According to Carson Kuehne of Verifone, a retail mobile app provider, a customer-facing initiative is “any effort which the end consumer will directly interface with.” He calls a branded mobile app “the pinnacle of customer-facing technology” because it carries on the brand experience between store visits. Just by having a smartphone, the customer provides the marketing medium themselves and there is no material cost for pushing out ads through the app.

Making it Fun

Starbucks My Rewards Mobile App
Photo by CNET

More retailers are including gamification in their mobile apps. Fun visuals and games keep customers engaged and reward them for doing so. A popular example of retail gamification is My Starbucks Rewards, which lets customers collect stars when they pay with their registered rewards card or mobile app, or when they buy specially marked Starbucks products at grocery stores. The more stars customers collect, the more rewards they earn.

Most mobile apps are available for download on both iPhone and Android devices and can be customized to each retailer’s needs, enabling smaller chains to enjoy the same features and benefits, including promotions, mobile coupons, store locater and customer feedback.

Internal Operations: Mobile Software In Your Corner

Somewhere in America, there is a lonely retail manager sitting in a room on desktop computer, with multiple screens open, manually inputting notes from a paper audit.

When we think of retail managers, we prefer to think of them as Julie Andrews in the “Sound of Music” -- spreading their arms and twirling around happily in a field. In their hand is a smartphone. They have learned to use this device as a powerful tool for retail audits, employee evaluations, maintenance report filing, security reports, and promotional rollout compliance (working in tandem with the brand’s mobile app). Ah, the wireless freedom. It’s a beautiful thing!

Retailers work hard on the customer-facing initiatives, but are they working harder to just keep their operation organized? The purpose of having a mobile strategy for internal operations is to gain more actionable insights with real-time analysis and reduce the amount of time it takes to complete routine paperwork.

Dispelling Misconceptions

Some managers and maybe even some bookkeepers may read up on mobile software for internal operations and think that it’s designed to replace their tasks, making them less valuable to the organization. On the contrary, mobile software reduces the amount of time it takes to input information from checklists and surveys so that these valuable employees can devote their brainpower elsewhere.

If half your time was spent collecting the data and the other half analyzing data, filling out a survey on their mobile device may free up another 25 percent of your time. Instead of creating a separate memo or notification about a problem, you can work through one platform to notify staff. When people become more efficient in their day-to-day tasks, the operation as a whole becomes more efficient.

Kuehne of Verifone gave some valuable advice concerning customer-facing technology but it also applied on the internal operations side. He recommended that retailers interested in starting a mobile initiative carefully choose providers and be wary of “runaway or ballooning costs by design.”

“If a retailer doesn't know exactly what this program will cost them in year one and subsequent years, then look elsewhere,” he advised.

This is definitely something to keep in mind when starting a mobile strategy. Be sure to ask questions and choose a platform that can be customized to your business’ unique needs.

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