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Mobile’s Momentum

Mobile’s Momentum

The Ultimate Empowerment Tool— But Who is in Control?

We’re in the thick of our industry’s show season, and it seems I’ve had more exciting strategic conversations this quarter than the past five years combined. I’ve also had the honor of participating in industry think tank conversations, some of them retail and some of them DOOH, and it’s given me a (much needed) fresh perspective.

One hot topic that keeps coming up is “what’s next with mobile?” I repeat often that I’m not a psychic. But some basic common sense is helping me crystallize some perspectives regarding mobile’s in-store potential that are worth sharing.

Due to rarely before seen economical and cultural shifts, we now sit in completely new world order. “Normal” will never come back, the young are getting old quicker, the old are staying young longer, and the peer perspective is miles more influential than the “authority.” Brand success is in the hands of the barbarians. And in their hands, literally, rests the mobile phone.

Another point I’ve come to embrace is the universal truth that in-store technologies are a challenge as much as a guiding light. As much as we love the vision of a shopping experience evolved via technology, even top retail brands admit that huge internal issues are still prevalent. Most legacy infrastructures are antiquated, IT departments are still tough to work with, and, in general, people are still fighting about whether IT is a cost or a strategic weapon. Pretty scary.

For years and years, when I see research roundups of the top consumer complaints with retail shopping, one of the biggies is that people (including yours truly) are still very frustrated by the missing bridges between their online and in-store shopping experiences. Why can’t I get personal recommendations and incentives for products that I might like when I’m in the store? I can do it online…so what’s the issue?

Shoppers don’t know or care about our IT challenges for cross channel marketing. They just care about what they’re missing. Whether it’s having access to hot deals, personal recommendations, consumer reviews, coupons or more, mobile could very well be the unifying technology to bridge online and offline. It could be the glue that we’re missing.

And remember that young, tech savvy Millennials are increasing in buying power and influence. They don’t trust brands and they certainly don’t trust salespeople. Further, they are teaching other generations how to better control their brand experiences by their example. Mobile is the perfect empowerment tool for them, as it amplifies their voices real time and is an ideal control mechanism.

Staying on the topic of young people, think about how much mobile can support the typical sales associate. We already love Apple for allowing us check out quickly with any salesperson via their handheld wireless POS. What if we made all store product information available on those handhelds for associate reference and gave them smart tools to help them sell more effectively? Not only would it enable better shopper experiences, it might actually help retain staff for longer.

Now, let’s talk about privacy. With the emergence of extremely sophisticated technologies to track shopper behavior, we honestly don’t know how sensitive consumers are going to be to them. I’ve written about this quite a bit, and many of us are being very proactive about getting in front of them. However, as I continue to explore this, I sometimes wonder if we’re making a mountain out of a molehill by assuming that the retailers will ultimately be in control of this issue. If instore shopper tracking was opt in and we made it easy for people to do so, privacy would be not be the roadblock. The roadblock would reside with the brands and retailers and how to get them to keep up with the fastmoving consumer who wants good service via every channel —including on mobile. To motivate them to opt-in at all, the retailers will have to work hard to earn their shopper’s trust and give them a reason to play ball, rewarding them often and consistently, and by doing so earning their ongoing buy-in.

Mobile has the ability it has to connect shoppers socially. People like to see what other people think of products, especially the opinions of those that they trust. They also like to share new finds, deals, and general information about the products that they love and hate. But they can’t do this in store because very few retailers are allowing them access to the internet to view this information while shopping. For some reason, retailers are still under the misconception that they are in control of this. Not for long.

Will mobile one day rock the very foundations of how we shop, purchase, and retain loyalty? I’m not sure, but some people that I really respect feel that mobile is to retail what the wheel was to mankind. That phones will get faster, better, and become extension of our bodies. And that we’d better get ready. A few years ago, I would have disregarded this notion in two seconds flat. Now? I’m keeping a close watch on what’s happening, just in case, and ensuring that my clients and I don’t get left in the dust.

Is the industry creating guidelines for tracking people in-store? When it comes down to it, the most important thing we’ve learned is that the deeper the data you’re collecting, the more pressing the permission issue. Handheld digital screens can operate as a “store cookie,” enabling shoppers to self identify when they want to and opt out just as easily. This may not be a big deal today, but it will be a huge one in the near future when the privacy advocates gets serious about our industry. But in this concern about privacy, we must ask: is mobile such a huge phenomenon that its momentum will short-circuit some of these privacy concerns?

Privacy issues may not be the stumbling block a lot of people think it will be. Smartphone technology, and smartphone applications, are evolving so quickly now that consumers are putting privacy issues to the side. They want convenience, interactive handsets not just for making phone calls, and a mobile window to the internet. The more pressing worry (than privacy issues) is whether this smartphone revolution could steal a lot of thunder from digital signage by supplanting larger screens in public places. But of course, that’s not the consumer’s problem–that’s just our problem.

Laura Davis-Taylor is VP of Global Retail Strategy for Creative Realities, a global experiential branding and marketing firm that specializes in creating wow environments and customer experiences. She is the co-author of“Lighting up the Aisle: Principles and Practices for In-store Digital Media” (