What’s holding back in-store mobile engagement?

Photo: RetailWire
Jan 08, 2019
Tom Ryan

According to the 2018 Digital Commerce Survey from Boston Retail Partners (BRP), 60 percent of retailers offer a mobile website and 57 percent offer a mobile app. Mobile, however, still appears to be doing a lousy job in terms of real engagement.

According to the study:

  • Twenty-nine percent of retailers can deliver mobile offers within a store; only four percent said it works well;
  • A quarter have mobile capabilities for suggestive selling; only seven percent said it works well;
  • Twenty-two percent can enable shoppers to locate products in-store with the app or website; four percent said it works well;
  • Eleven percent can use mobile to support real-time events selling (e.g., promotions based on a weather event); four percent said it works well.

Asked about their key mobile app/website features, the top answer from retailers was product information, 85 percent; product locator/store map, 67 percent; customer service, 59 percent; coupons/discounts and loyalty/rewards, tied at 56 percent; item availability/visibility, 52 percent; shopping list, 48 percent; and price check, 30 percent.

When retailers were asked to name their top digital priorities, only 24 percent cited improving the mobile shopping experience. The top answer was creating a consistent brand experience across channels, at 57 percent. Tied at 38 percent were increasing customer loyalty, improving personalization and improving user experience (navigation, speed, responsiveness).

The findings follow those from Adobe Analytics for the holiday season (Nov. 1 to Dec. 31):

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Is mobile technology not yet ready to properly support in-store offers and suggestions? Or are consumers simply not interested? What mobile features do you think retailers should focus on to improve use and conversion?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"Consumers are most certainly interested, often there is a disconnect between mobile offers and experience and that of in-store."
"What is the upside for consumers to use mobile technology in a store? And is that upside worth the inconvenience? So far, I think we see the answer as no."
"Few retailers make in-store mobile engagement easy and intuitive, let alone compelling."

Join the Discussion!

19 Comments on "What’s holding back in-store mobile engagement?"

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Jennifer McDermott

Consumers are most certainly interested, often there is a disconnect between mobile offers and experience and that of in-store. Staff who aren’t properly trained in the latest deals or the technology are unable to assist, leading to customer frustration and subsequent disinterest in the digital platforms offered.

Shep Hyken

While it’s been around for several years, mobile technology for this use is still developing. There will be a time that it hits a tipping point, when a majority of shoppers know how to take advantage of the technology. This isn’t an “If you build it they will come — and use it” type of technology. Retailers must push a good experience out there and then train their customers how to take advantage of it. Think back to the time when airlines started promoting online ticket purchasing and check-in. They had to give incentives to their customers and train them to use the system. Once they found out that it saved them time and was easy to use, they adopted it as a normal way of doing business. The same applies to this type of mobile technology.

Cynthia Holcomb

In-store shopping, especially grocery shopping is for many a quick turnaround event. Get in and get out. Pausing to scan deals on a phone, etc. while actually in the store, is counter-intuitive to the mission at hand. Conversion rates indicate shoppers are leveraging mobile for information prior to going into the store. Noise is also an issue. Who wants to download coupons in-store? It is a hassle to push a cart, drag a child along, and be checking the phone for “offers” or directions, etc. Obviously, lack of adoption reflects that mobile in-store shopping apps are not ready for prime time yet. At the nuisance level, each retailer needs to determine what, if any, pain point in-store mobile apps solve for their customer.

Charles Dimov

I agree with Jennifer that consumers are definitely interested, but it could be that the form factor, and mobile optimized sites are the hold-back. There is no argument that it is a rich resource at everyone’s fingertips. But it is clearly still going to take a while before purchase/engagement rates start to rise. This is the Holy Grail of retail.

As for mobile optimized site vs. an app — retailers need to focus on mobile optimization. Apps will ONLY work for the biggest of retailers. Otherwise consumers are faced with having to load dozens of apps. That is just NOT realistic.

Doug Garnett

Lack of customer value for the hassle is holding back the impact of mobile technology. And it’s unlikely that changing the tech can fix the problem.

Customers have to be convinced to “buy into” a retailer’s tech theories — HOW to get access to all these things. And then those tech widgets need to deliver something of serious value.

BUT customer are “brand promiscuous” as Byron Sharp puts it. That means we shop a wide range of stores — and it’s the exception that a store gets enough of our business for us to remember on THIS trip all the hassle we went through on the last trip to set up our mobile connections.

Mobile is no magic fix to our problems finding store help to make our shopping trips worthwhile.

Gene Detroyer

Please don’t bother me with discounts, coupons or rewards. Let me put in my shopping list and route me through the store to pick up the items I want. If the store doesn’t have them, tell me when they will be in stock, or not. If I need product information, let me scan the bar code on the product.

Retailers should see mobile applications as tools for helping the shopper, not trying to get them to buy one more item. Mr. Retailer, it is about the customer, it is not about you.

Ricardo Belmar

Nailed it, 100 percent. Focusing on discounts and special offers is not taking a customer-centric view, that’s looking at it from the retailer’s point of view. The mobile experience has to provide the value the customer wants, not what the retailer wants the customer to want.

Georganne Bender

Consumers may be interested in mobile technology but they aren’t falling over themselves to use it in-store. And there is definitely a disconnect in some stores between what’s promised online and what happens on the sales floor.

This is a customer education issue. If retailers do not promote the value of mobile, customers are less likely to look for reasons use it.

Liz Adamson

Use of mobile during an in-store shopping trip is complicated. Is the customer just there for a quick trip? Do they have children with them? Are they pushing a shopping cart and juggling a shopping list? Are they more focused on racks of clothes and trying to find the style they like? In these scenarios pulling out a phone to scan and search for deals is likely more trouble than it is worth. It may be wise to look at mobile as a pre-shopping trip experience instead of an in-store experience, used for research, to create shopping lists, and to help the consumer plan the trip to help them get in and out quickly.

Peter Charness

the in-store experience isn’t about standing in one place and shopping/interacting on a phone. A mobile app may help (especially for complex products that need information) but as-is, today may not be well set to support that in-store experience — as the usage statistics seem to be suggesting.

Ralph Jacobson

Few retailers make in-store mobile engagement easy and intuitive, let alone compelling. Once you master the app’s navigation (keep it excruciatingly simple) then you need to deliver relevant promotions in real time. That is very possible today, but you need proven technologies. Do your investigation and you’ll see how some innovators are making this happen around the world right now.

Joan Treistman

There are consistent threads in the comments. It has to do with desire and convenience. It’s been a challenge for retailers to come up with websites that are easy to navigate. But once a shopper is at the website determined to make a purchase, she’ll stick to it. But in a store? Why?

What is the upside for consumers to use mobile technology in a store? And is that upside worth the inconvenience? So far, I think we see the answer as no.
I don’t think retailers have focused on what will be of greatest benefit to their customers. Instead they’re focused on using technology and integrating offers and in-store highlights. Mobile technology should be used to help customers help themselves in an easy and convenient way. With that in mind retailers may get more of their shoppers to use that app.

John Karolefski

I have seen many surveys saying that a high percentage of shoppers are engaging with their smartphones while grocery shopping. I look for these people all the time in stores around the country — and never see them. I see many shoppers referring to a slip of paper with a grocery list on it.

I suspect that the urge to get in and get out of the store quickly works against shoppers checking their smartphones for coupons and other promotional offers in store. If there will be a change, it will be generational.

Dr. Stephen Needel

I agree John – and most of the surveys that point to the demand are done by companies that have a vested interest in the answer being “Yes — give us mobile.”

Erik Bergeman

Customers are looking for better engagement period. The fact that a mobile device is part of that engagement is less relevant than the customer having the feeling that their mission is understood. Think about a grocery store that doesn’t make you clip coupons but when there is one for your favorite products in your cart it gets applied automatically creating undying loyalty. How about you understand my mission based on digital exhaust and help me do it faster and cheaper than anybody else.

Ken Morris
Ken Morris
Retail industry thought leader
1 year 6 months ago

Mobile technology is ready to support in-store offers and suggestions. The obstacle is retailers IT infrastructure that is saddled with legacy systems that can’t support real-time retail. Optimizing mobile capabilities in the store for consumer-facing and associate-facing apps requires visibility to real-time inventory and customer information.

Consumers are definitely interested in in-store mobile capabilities. According to a recent BRP consumer survey, 63% of consumers use their mobile phone while shopping in a store to compare prices, look for offers/coupons, check inventory availability, etc. Additionally, 67% of consumers are likely to shop with a retailer that offers mobile coupons, discounts and promotions over a retailer who doesn’t offer these services.

James Tenser

I have long maintained that any medium that draws shoppers attention away from the products on display should be regarded with some skepticism. Instant access to product and pricing information has value, but interaction with mobile devices is isolating, even within a public space.

In my experience, even the shopping list app for my favorite supermarket is awkward to use while piloting a cart through the aisles. On the rare occasion when I make a high-consideration purchase in a physical store, I have usually pre-researched my decision online and have no need to check further.

The lessons learned by Videocart in 1988 and its successors still apply — it’s a mistake to try to force shoppers to change their behavior to serve a technology. While mobile tech is getting smoother with each iteration, I remain skeptical that shoppers will alter their essential habits unless there is a clear and meaningful reduction in friction.

Sterling Hawkins

As an industry, we should be focused on a consistent brand experience across channels. But that also includes being focused on an integrated cross-channel shopper experience. Every single Amazon Go store shopper uses their phone to check in. Most people also use mobile for navigating the streets in their car. The technology is fully capable today to deliver experiences that meaningfully bring together the digital and physical worlds. It’s up to us to build those valuable, meaningful experience into our stores.

Patricia Vekich Waldron

Mobile usage is great for awareness, research and buying. When in store, consumers are typically focused on getting in and out like in grocery, or touching and feeling, like in specialty — not necessarily looking at their mobile devices.

"Consumers are most certainly interested, often there is a disconnect between mobile offers and experience and that of in-store."
"What is the upside for consumers to use mobile technology in a store? And is that upside worth the inconvenience? So far, I think we see the answer as no."
"Few retailers make in-store mobile engagement easy and intuitive, let alone compelling."

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