Retailers have long viewed mobile as the “glue” between the offline and the online worlds; however, with the rapidly changing nature of both digital landscape and customer expectations, many retailers are struggling to formulate a mobile strategy that is engaging and effective, balancing the needs of the customer with their own objectives, and that is maintainable in a rapidly changing environment of both technology and customer needs. So, how should you approach the task?

Your understanding of ‘mobile’

First, it is crucial to define what is in scope of “mobile”. Is it simply a channel, for example, a mobile-optimised website and/or an app? Is it the range of services that are delivered to customers via a mobile phone? Is it the customer services in the “gap” between online and offline environments? There is no right or wrong answer to this question but it is helpful for an organisation to define exactly what they mean by “mobile” and it is suggested that this is defined from a customer-centric perspective.

How do your customers use mobile?

It is also important to understand customer needs for using or receiving mobile services, ranging from:

  • the types of device that they use
  • the various times at which customers will want to use or receive mobile services
  • the locations at which they will use mobile services

… and so on, as this affects the services offered and how they fit together.

Taking one of the examples above, location, it is then possible to expand the “where” of the service to consider customer needs that are

  • On the move: The customer may wish to locate stores (or stock held within the store), reserve items, find opening times, book appointment slots and so on
  • Near a store: The customer may welcome geofencing or proximity marketing to alert them to an offer or service of interest, perhaps Apple’s Passbook can be used to store and remind them of offers that have appealed, or Bluetooth messaging may be used to attract customers into the store. Conversely, customers may find this intrusive, so a balance of the right message to the right customer at the right time has to be sought
  • In store: The customer may wish to use their mobile in store for a range of tasks, adding to the convenience or enjoyment of their in-store experience. These could include simply providing WiFi access, using iBeacons or NFC to personalise their experience and engage them, the use of eVouchers and eCoupons in a format more convenient than paper or card, ability to take mobile payments and so on
  • After sales: The customer could receive and store eReceipts for their purchases, complete satisfaction surveys etc with the aim of building engagement with them in a convenient and useful manner

It is important to understand that not every service will be applicable to your customers and that the set of services must be clearly understood and valued by the customer, rather than cause confusion or be a distraction. It is also important to understand that both customer needs and mobile technologies are changing rapidly, and that any strategy is a “living document” that should be reviewed regularly.

How do you manage your mobile strategy?

Businesses must understand how to provide and maintain these services in an agile, cost-effective manner. This relies on a holistic approach between the business functions and IT to provide an open, secure technical platform that allows rapid refinement and/or new services, built both internally and externally, to fulfil customer needs. The organisational structures and culture should also support multi-departmental (and third party developer) cooperation to ensure that services come to market in a cost-effective and timely manner.

However, in addition to “owned” services, such as mobile websites and apps, retailers also need to consider how their customers use third party services (from social media to Yell) and phone capabilities (for example, barcode scanners) as the customer will make no real distinction between the service on the retailer app and the service they receive on Facebook. Careful consideration must be made as to which services to support and how to make them consistent with the overall service offerings.

Retailers should also remember that the “glue” is not just from online to physical; mobile can be used equally effectively to take the customer from a physical location to an online one, for example to

  • extend “opening hours” – use the store front when closed to direct customers to online services – or even have an interactive display that allows the customer to still browse or purchase when the store is closed
  • extend store range –provide kiosks or access to the mobile website via tablets
  • shorten the purchase journey –scan a barcode or use augmented reality in a magazine to play a video and land the customer on the appropriate web page
  • drive footfall – use geofencing to send the customer to an online service (rather than the store),
  • in-store information – use iBeacons, kiosks and other customer services to provide information and entertainment in addition to their transactional uses

Retailers need a robust and agile strategy for “mobile” – typically as part of the online or multichannel strategy – that acknowledges the rapidly changing range of technologies, touch points and services to meet their customer needs – and that’s very difficult. It requires a comprehensive strategy that puts the customer at the heart of the services. There is a requirement to balance the needs of the customer with the objectives of the organisation to produce a return and it needs to be integrated rather than added tactically/reactively. However, organisations that get the strategy and enabling platforms “right” will be able to rapidly refine or create services that are valued by the customer and create value for organisation.