Thyngs: Retailers must become truly omnichannel

Dr Neil Garner is the founder and CEO of Thyngs, a mobile technology platform that transforms any product, packaging or promotional material into an instant point of sale using mobile proximity payment technologies.

Tapping into the power of engagement

Retailers are facing one of the most competitive environments in decades. Under pressure from shareholders to increase sales, cut costs – or both – they’re dealing with an ever-fickle consumer who has the power to take their custom elsewhere with just a click.

In parallel, they are having to constantly reinvent the customer experience, their retail presence, and their technology – and even compete with product manufacturers trying to engage directly with their customers.

As the lines between e-commerce, mobile and social blur, many experts agree that the retailers that find success will be those that cater best to this evolving landscape by investing in and adopting an omnichannel model.

But being truly omnichannel isn’t about having a website, a mobile app and a retail presence. It’s about recognising that, in the minds of consumers, shopping is a single experience, whether online, on a mobile device, or in-store. It’s about integrating across those channels, ensuring the characteristics and value of each are used to the maximum. And, most importantly, it’s about combining them to transform the shopping experience into something that the consumer wants and remembers.

Achieving this requires a deeper understanding of consumers’ expectations. In one of the most thorough pieces of consumer research, PwC surveyed over 24,000 shoppers in 29 countries about their retail behaviour. The findings in its Total Retail report point to just a few of the issues that retailers need to consider to stay relevant in this hyper-competitive market.

Mobile shopping continues to grow

Shopping via a mobile phone – whether researching, comparing, or purchasing – continues to grow faster than tablet, desktop PC, or in-store. This means that retailers need to continue optimising for mobile and integrating it with the in-store experience, which still accounts for the majority of all sales. For example, 68% of those questioned by PwC said that the “ability to check other store or online stock quickly” is one of the most important factors in relation to the in-store experience.

When a consumer browsing in store pulls out a smartphone and goes online, retailers therefore need to think about how to ensure they don’t just do a search for the product, find it cheaper on Amazon, and order it there and then for next – or even same-day – delivery. Omnichannel retailers will instead be focused on how they can turn every in-store engagement into an opportunity to prompt the consumer to purchase from them, for instance by including a QR (Quick Response) code or NFC (Near Field Communication) tag on the shelf label that consumers can scan or tap to instantly check stock in other stores or online, and place an order.

Apps have had their day

As it was with websites and online stores before, in recent years every retailer has felt the need to invest in their own app to take advantage of mobile commerce – usually just because their closest competitors have one. However, this strategy is starting to unravel. In the last few years, PwC has identified a significant shift away from retailer-branded apps by consumers. This is consistent with other research that shows that one in two smartphone users won’t download any new apps in an average month – and those that do, will only download a couple at most.

Omnichannel retailers therefore need to be thinking about experiences that don’t require the consumer to download, install and retain their app but instead rely on the technologies they already have – like the camera, NFC, location, and messaging – or the ubiquitous social networking apps from the likes of Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter.

Think beyond the till

Research from Retail Week shows that 80% of consumers are likely to return to retailers that provide them with a quick payment process, with 62% expecting to be offered multiple ways to pay in-store. As well as contactless card payments, these need to include the newer mobile payment options like Apple Pay, Google Pay and PayPal. These bring multiple benefits to consumers and retailers alike. Tokenisation means that mobile phone payments are more secure than Chip & PIN. Combined with biometric authentication methods such as fingerprint, face and iris recognition, they also provide a quicker, simpler payment experience as well as further added security. As a result, they can be used for much higher value transactions than the £30 limit imposed for contactless cards.

But for many retailers, the payment experience is just about the payment and is completely disconnected from the shopping experience – it’s the boring bit that consumers have to do at the end of the process in order to spend their money.

PwC’s research shows that consumers don’t think the same way. When it comes to the in-store shopping experience, they rank things like the ability to check stock, receive personalised offers, and see/order an extended range of products as important. Unfortunately, there is still a significant gap between what consumers consider to be important, and their satisfaction with how well retailers are currently fulfilling these needs.

Personalisation is the new loyalty

61% of consumers surveyed for the PwC study consider themselves to be loyal shoppers who know which brands and products they like, and they buy them most often. At the same time, 59% want real-time, personalised offers designed especially for them as part of the in-store shopping experience. This is perhaps a reflection of what they get online, with vouchers, discount codes, and cashback becoming commonplace.

This has two major implications for the omnichannel retailer. First, they need to find better ways to capture data in-store (e.g. Who is the shopper? Have they been here before? What do they usually buy? How much do they usually spend?), and do so within the confines of the new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) rules coming into force on 25 May.

Second, they need a method of communicating with the shopper in order to provide the personalised offers that they consider to be such an important part of the in-store experience.

Yet again, the smartphone provides a solution to these problems. By providing shoppers with opportunities to engage using opt-in technologies like QR and NFC, they can opt in to share data with the store and associate this with their device. The store can then use this data to personalise offers and communicate them directly to the consumer’s mobile phone whenever they enter the store (or even when they are nearby).

Whilst bricks-and-mortar retailing is far from dead, there are many things about the in-store experience that are less than optimal. Retail technology – in particular using the mobile phone as a bridge between the physical experience in-store and digital information, services and payments – has the potential to transform the retail journey.

The good news for retailers is that, with selective use of some simple technologies, it can be implemented quickly and easily using platforms like ours without a huge investment.

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