Mobile technology has pretty much transformed human life in the past decade or so when you really think about all the innovations that have come with the rise of smartphones. We communicate, organise, exercise, entertain ourselves, and even conduct business in new ways thanks to all that these phones have to offer. But the changes haven’t stopped coming just yet! Mobile phones, Bluetooth, and WiFi tech may be changing the nature of shopping for a lot of us by updating in-store experiences in some subtle but impactful ways.
First among these ways is going to be the use of beacon technology to enhance the connection between a store and the customers that walk in. For those who may be unfamiliar with the specifics of beacon technology, an article at Forbes explains that beacons are essentially Bluetooth-enabled sensors designed to detect the location of a customer at any given time in a store area. Now, that’s not quite as creepy or invasive as it sounds. A beacon detects only a customer who has opted to connect his or her phone to the store (through an app or website), and thus to be located. Beacons are already in use in some large retail stores where they’re helpful purely for assisting customers get around and find products, but they’re also becoming more popular for smaller stores. The primary function is that once a customer enters a store, the beacon will notice and then be able to send timely, relevant messages regarding any sales that might be going on or any special promotions. Basically, it’s automating and simplifying certain aspects of the sales process.
If beacons are meant in part to keep customers from having to walk deep into a store or approach the register to learn about sales or promotions, another mobile innovation that may be more familiar is seeking to accomplish a similar goal regarding payment. Many store owners now believe that expecting customers to approach a register to pay is not the most efficient transaction method. Accordingly, they’re adopting various mobile payment methods. Most commonly, this means portable and WiFi-enabled card readers that employees can use to accept payments out on the store floor, rather than at the register. Worldpay’s page on portable card machines explains that these same devices are now also equipped with contactless pay capabilities, which also means they can accommodate the newest methods of payment such as Apple Pay and its competitors. So in short, mobile tech is beginning to eliminate the need for conventional cash register areas.
In a broader sense, brick-and-mortar stores are also taking steps to use technology to simulate the online shopping experience in person. That may seem somewhat backwards given that online shopping initially sought to replicate and improve upon the live experience, but so it goes. People like to shop online because it’s quick and convenient, because they can easily compare prices and options, and because they can receive suggestions for similar products based on interests and purchasing history. And judging by a piece on CEO initiatives by Accenture, these are exactly the types of perks that some stores are now looking to feature. The convenience of online shopping can be brought back into stores through in-store visibility of your own shopping history and habits, coupled with suggestions for alternative items based on your own preferences. And this can all be accomplished through anything from store devices’ memory of your past purchases or, if agreed to by a customer, recognition of your search history.
These are all entirely different methods of innovation that we’re beginning to see in stores, but each can effectively utilise mobile technology to connect stores to their customers and generate a smoother shopping experience. It’s going to be a gradual transition, but there’s a strong chance that visiting the average store feels very different in another year’s time than it did a year ago.