App or No App? Is Mobile First for Retail?

App or No App? Is Mobile First for Retail?

May 24, 2016

Today’s consumers live in their own self-contained worlds where mobility is a behavior and not a technology. With mobility, they can choose how they want to interact with the world around them and in what context. They use technology to make their lives easier, convenient, and to suit their own personal lifestyles. Gone are the days that retail can merchandise and serve their customers all the same way. Retailers must reach them in their independent but preferred channels with service in mind and not selling.

By watching customers over the years, smart retailers have learned what customers like to consume and share – like product reviews, product information, price comparisons, recommendations, how-tos, what-ifs, and their opinions. And, these same smart retailers know that different consumers consume in various formats like video, digital, text, images, interactive and face to face. The trick is figuring out how, whenand exactly what they might like or want to consume from your brand and then to give it to them. And if you give it to them will they come back? What might make them want to come back?

Sure, consumers love and search for deals but numerous surveys have shown us that final buying decisions are made at a moment in time – often subconsciously – and often based on an experience they have had. This is why retailers are hearing that their greatest differentiator will be experience. But what will that experience be?

Again, smart retailers ‘get’ that deploying digital and mobile in store is not all about marketing, coupons, loyalty programs and promotions. No, it is more about how to serve the customer before you have permission to sell to them. Once permission is gained, loyalty often follows. It’s a type of currency you might say.

To have an app or not have an app? That is the question.

Let’s face it, creating an app for your store to share deals and score points does little more for real loyalty than have existing loyalty cards, for the most part. We all know brands that are the exception. Starbucks comes to mind. But, the Starbucks app was designed to give their already loyal customer an app that makes shopping with Starbucks more convenient. It provides them with an alternative behavior more so than a technology. They get to go to the head of the line.

Now, let’s look at consumer adoption of the more traditional loyalty and marketing apps. They tend to be very slow at best. Why? The consumer simply does not want to add apps for every store they shop in. Some consumers are still a bit leery of what the retailers may be gaining access to, as in their personal information, and are just plain reluctant to download apps at all. Sure they may want the points and to see what is on sale however, does that make them loyal? Is that really making them come back or simply racking up points should they need something else down the road…and likely on sale. Is this the customer you really want to target?

For most retailers, a first foray into in-store digital/mobile should likely target your top 10% customer base. Those who return more often, buy current items and at full price, and spend more. A smart app will be one that finds a way to serve that customer in a way that creates some form of sentiment, emotion, or currency with the brand.

How to map out your brand’s app? You begin by identifying the basic ‘design stack.’

Who is the customer you want to target and how do they interact with your brand? – What do they consume and how do they like to consume it?
What do you know or need to know about the customer?
What are your brand’s promises to this customer?
What technology is available and/or needed?
How will it be governed/monitored for 360 feedback?
What is the blueprint for getting there?

Here is a great example of a high-end retailer who got it right. This retailer knew that their top customers like, want to feel, and be treated as special. They also knew what these customers liked to consume (It’s not so hard to figure out from a customer who shops your brand all the time, if you are paying attention.) Their customers like to know what is fresh off the runway, current, fashion forward and they want to be seen in it first. So, the brand created an app for their employees that would let them know when one of these preferred customers walked into the store so they could go and greet them and give them personalized service. Also, the customer could schedule an appointment with their personal shopper before arriving and maybe even have some things pulled for them and in a dressing room ahead of time. How could the personal shopper do that? The app was able to capture and retain other items purchased by that customer to help them style new outfits and complete looks. To top it off, the customer could even trade their previously bought, lightly used designer labeled goods for points toward their next purchase. All in an effort to keep that customer current, looking good and eager to return to the store to use their points.

Don’t get me wrong. Nothing says that the app must be exclusive to only the top 10%. It should simply be designed with them in mind. Or maybe not the top 10% but a particular niche of your business. You may even want to limit testing to very specific areas in order to prove the concept and fail fast if required. Retailers today need to be in constant beta. Ready to adapt their thinking to one of ‘launch, improve, repeat’. And that means measure, measure, measure everything that requires or may lead to a decision.

The sooner you can offer your customers an alternative behavior choice of their liking, the sooner you will hear more Cha-chings!