App Development

Building on Brick-and-Mobile Shopping Apps

Mutual Mobile
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March 28, 2011

Smartphones have blurred the lines between brick-and-mortar and online stores to create a meld of mobile-enabled commerce called “brick and mobile.” So far, retailers have been successful in exploiting this hybrid by publishing apps that enhance the in-store experience, but now that they’ve cut their teeth on the novelty aspects of brick-and-mobile apps, it’s time to apply a deeper level of marketing knowledge. Big Box and Specialty stores, two of the largest types of national chains and some of the biggest proponents of mobile-enabled commerce, can do more to choose the right tool for the job and start making apps that focus on what their specific customer needs.

Big Box Apps Channel Shoppers’ Choice

Navigating 3000 square feet of retail is no small feat, but the right mobile solution makes the task less daunting. In Big Box stores, technology offers a way to bring the very best of the online experience into the the offline space, and capture shoppers that could otherwise be lost to comparison shopping or product overload.

Social commerce sites like Amazon have cultured shoppers toward reading reviews, ratings and FAQs before committing to a purchases. Mobile allows stores to bring elements of that online social commerce to the real world by putting searchable reviews and ratings into an app. Best Buy integrated this ability into its app by letting customers scan QR and UPC codes on products for more information, or place a product side-by-side with comparable items.

Best Buy Utilizes Social Commerce and Price Comparison

Price is a key lever for conversion in the big box industry, and price comparison apps make it easier than ever for a shopper to scope out the competition’s prices while standing in the aisle of a store. More than a million people are using the app ShopSavvy to compare brick-and-mortar and online prices. If a store competes on price, this should be front-and-center in the app strategy and it should show users the quantifiable difference from the competition.

Finally, Big Box stores need to close the loop by empowering store associates to act as advocates of the mobile strategy. These store staff are the face of the brand and have significant influence on conversion. Customers using comparison shopping apps often find results for products that are refurbished, a slightly different model or that have hidden shipping or long-term costs. A store associate who intimately understands the inventory can make the difference in steering a customer from a shoddy product back to an in-store purchase.

Specialty Retail Apps Speak to the Individual

Unlike big box, specialty store shoppers are already engaged in the store’s brand and have established expectations for quality and price. These shoppers are looking for a lifestyle experience more than they are a deal, and the right mobile strategy gives them a feeling of customization while stripping out the pain points from the purchasing experience.

Smartphones let shoppers bring their whole social network right into the dressing room with them. Smart retailers take advantage of the sway friends and family have by empowering shoppers to get quick feedback from their trusted sources. Simply scanning an item or taking a picture and receiving input from friends is a powerful way to increase conversion. Beauty store Sephora’s rich app ties into Facebook for users to get immediate advice from followers, and saves information about past purchases to help give custom recommendations.

Sephora Uses Facebook Sharing and Advice to Increase Conversion

Because specialty stores are delivering that highly personal experience, if the store doesn’t have the right size, color, or model, the customer isn’t likely to just settle for something else. Mobile can help save these sales by enabling customers, or associates with mobile tools, to find inventory in other locations, or recommend alternative products. Even if the sale can’t be rescued, the customer still walks away with a positive feeling that the store tried to cater to them.

Finally, check out is the last leg of a customer’s journey through a store, but long lines and wait can also make it a pain point. Apple’s own model of check out-less stores is a prime example of how a store can break from the norm, and put check out into the hands of employees via mobile. Removing the counter makes for a more intimate experience with customers that encourages them to become personal with store associates. This technology is possible now, but is about to become even faster and easier as Near Field Communication slowly makes its way into the mainstream.

Many retailers have fallen victim to having an app for apps sake, that was packed with functionality, but none of it really right for their audience. Sometimes a mobile strategy, whether it be in-store or not, is about having less features that mean more to the customer rather than throwing as many things at the wall and seeing what sticks.