In Manhattan, there’s a well-known and extremely busy store I dread visiting. Sure, they carry some good lines of clothing and it’s conveniently located, but the service is beyond lousy. Every time I visit, I wish there was another way; I wish that I could shop there entirely independently of under-trained, commission-hungry assistants. If only I could use my phone to locate what I want within the store, get information about it (and maybe details of current special offers, based on my location in the store), scan, transact without the need to get out my cash or credit card, then leave with my goods, an e-receipt winging its way to my inbox and my loyalty points automatically added.
Thing is, this is perfectly possible—particularly as IoT brings sensors to everyday objects and scenarios and NFC becomes increasingly secure, sophisticated and accepted. Some UK stores are already trialing beacon technology, where consumers armed with an enabled phone app can have relevant information pushed to their phones in-store, triggered when they pass by a ‘beacon’ (which could be an entrance, a mannequin or a specific store area)[1]. There are clear upsides for retailers and customers alike.  In the US, Costco provides a handheld device allowing their customers to scan the goods they would like to purchase as they put them in their carts.  At the checkout, the register reads the data from the handheld, customer pays and walks out the door with a receipt.
What’s more, there is proof that the mobile-enabled service model works. Take a look at taxi app Uber. Controversy aside, it has proven to be a huge success, rapidly spreading worldwide and attracting millions of users along the way. Why is it so successful? Because it helps people sidestep precisely the issue I highlighted at the start of this post: bad service. Uber drivers are peer reviewed and are guaranteed a fixed rate, so they have an added incentive to do a good job. No more smelly cabs, picky cabbies, pressure to tip (it’s built in to the price of Uber) or bad service. Instead, the ability to order a cab through the app, no cash required (card details are securely stored). No muss, no fuss.
The reality is, as much as consumers enjoy personalized service, sometimes we want it without the ‘person’ part. So, can and will retailers take their lead from this global success? I’d like to say ‘yes’. In delivering the all-important all channel, multi-touch experience to the consumer, this type of mobile-enabled experience can be optimal in certain situations and should certainly be an option. Get it right and, like Uber, retailers will enjoy deepened loyalty as a result.