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Diverse retailers, Shop Direct Group, Fenwick, Tesco, Adidas and Casino, are adopting mobile technologies for competitive and operational benefits, writes Glynn Davis of exclusively for Retail Technology

When Shop Direct Group found that over 40% of customer visits to its websites came via mobile devices, and that when these people used more than two devices their conversion rates increased ten-fold, the company realised m-commerce had to be taken seriously.

Although Jonathan Wall, group e-commerce director at Shop Direct Group, told Retail Technology magazine that, 18 months ago, conversion rates on mobile was 50% of those on desktops. But what was significant was the rate at which the visitor numbers from mobile devices was growing. 

“It was not that the final transaction was on mobile, because it is not a completion tool, but having done the research [on customer behaviours] the increasing visitor numbers was a big light bulb moment for us,” he says.

This led the company to end development of all its apps and to instead concentrate solely on its Java-based Rails website that could be easily viewed on a variety of smaller screens. Once this site was updated and simplified Wall said the decision was then taken to create apps for specific purposes. An early example is set to be a ‘My Account’ app.

Harnessing speed to market

Other new developments will include the company’s main site launching on the latest version of its e-commerce platform – the latest version of Oracle ATG’s Commerce 10 product. And Wall added that he had taken some trips over to the start-up technology community in Israel where he has seen many applications that he would like to trial in the UK.

“There are 20 businesses that I’d like to pilot and maybe two or three will actually work. We’ve got lots of brands that we could do these trials on. It’s the speed that is the key [to trialling new technology] and we’re also trying to embed a culture of fast failure,” he explained.

One technology he viewed enables retailers’ sites to be tagged for individual customers, which helps them build up a behavioural profile of them. This could then allow relevant messages to be sent to the customer. Another provides the technology to “not make QR [quick response] codes ugly,” he added.

“My gut view is that QR codes will not be used until Apple integrates a QR scanner. At this point retailers will be more willing to put them into their catalogues,” he says, adding that one Shop Direct trial involved using augmented reality (AR) technology (from HP) that enabled photos to be scanned in the Holly Willoughby clothing range of the Very catalogue, which then takes the customer to the website. 

Wall also admitted to having seen some other interesting, new communication technologies in Israel for use instore, including one that utilises Bluetooth to recognise when a customer has a retailers’ app on their phone. They can then monitor where the customer goes within their store.

Increasing customer store engagement

Such tracking is also possible through the installation of Wi-Fi instore, although there is some sensitivity about Big Brother-style intrusion. However, this has not stopped a growing army of retailers installing just such technology in their outlets.

Among them is Fenwick, which recently began offering free unlimited Wi-Fi in its 11 department stores, following its installation by BT. Shoppers can now read product reviews online, share purchases on social media platforms, and also compare prices. Andy Baker, chief executive of BT Wi-Fi, commented: “Wi-Fi is a key marry a traditional shopping trip with digital channels, such as search and social networks, to improve the shopper experience.”

Tesco has also been rolling out Wi-Fi across its stores as it seeks to link customers’ mobile devices with the grocer’s instore technology applications. Emily Shamma, director for clothing online at Tesco, said the company is currently evaluating a six-month trial with Cisco of five separate technologies for its F&F clothing offer in three large stores (Tesco trials transactional instore kiosks,, 19 July 2013). The next step will be to roll out selected applications and harness mobile technology to create a multichannel experience.

The trial comprised: digital and social signage; a touchscreen order point kiosk; a Kids StyleMe mirror; a digital mannequin; and a 47-inch touch-screen for displaying customised style guides. 

The kiosks look to have some future mileage as Shamma said they achieved a “good” level of sales. But the key benefit is that they have raised awareness of Tesco’s online business. This has also been the major upside of the Kids mirrors that also increased dwell time as they have helped mum’s grab some extra time away from the children to put some additional things in their baskets.

Shamma revealed that both these technologies will be “cautiously” rolled out. This will be followed by incorporating them into customer’s mobile devices. “It is the next piece for us,” she added. “The first is using the instore pieces to get people online and the next is increasingly about what does mobile do for us.”

This could be through the use of apps, QR codes or even some other emerging technology. One possible implementation would involve the customer scanning a product’s barcode from the kiosk screens and style guides, which could aid their purchase of the item instore or through Tesco’s online store. 

Mobilising loyalty with apps

Such activities will undoubtedly be viewed as complimentary to the mobile developments taking place at the Tesco-owned Giraffe restaurant chain that recently launched a mobile loyalty app for iPhone iOS and Android platforms, which offers free coffee and money-off food rewards. 

It utilises QR code technology whereby the in-built scanner is used to add virtual reward stamps to the mobile-based loyalty card. The app also uses geolocation mapping to find the nearest restaurants, menu browsing, and a reservation function operated by Live Res. 

Juliette Joffe, co-founder of Giraffe, said: “We’ve tried to keep it as simple and concise as possible to appeal to a wider audience, whether they are popping in for a regular coffee or visiting us for a meal.”

As Tesco rolls out Giraffe restaurants into its larger superstores (like the Watford Extra store revamped this August), the app will enhance the instore experience, which Tesco now recognises as essential to the success of its bigger outlets. Adding to this is the likelihood that the grocer will introduce iPads into its stores, according to Shamma, who also said she can see a role for them in the future.

Tablets are certainly an important part of the Adidas ‘boot wall’ that has been trialled in six of the brand’s stores around the world including London and will be rolled out to further outlets as well as other non-store locations.

Michelle Tinsley, director of transactional retail at Intel, whose technology is behind the solution, says the boot wall comprises a single panel interactive screen, which has been slimmed down from the first iteration that was a much larger video wall arrangement.

It enables ‘endless aisle’ capability with a display of Adidas’ full range of boots on an interactive screen. To maintain privacy the transactions are performed via sales assistants armed with tablets. They are also able to provide additional information to customers about the products and determine whether specific items are in stock at the store.

“The tablet is supplementary to the sales process and although privacy was valued by customers they also wanted the assistant to help them,” said Tinsley, who adds that the effectiveness of this tablet/screen arrangement was highlighted when the stores with the video boot wall achieved five-times the sales levels of a store with static signage during a controlled product launch. 

Preparing for 4G roll out

With increased numbers of mobile-based implementations being introduced into stores the availability of bandwidth has been a growing concern. It is therefore likely that the gradual introduction of 4G this year will prompt an acceleration of such applications instore.

Certainly, it cannot come soon enough for Simon Gordon, founder of security solution Facewatch, who says major retailers are all looking at centralising their CCTV solutions on the back of the roll out of 4G and fibre technologies.

“3G was very clunky to send video, but with 4G and fibre there are massive implications. All the big grocers and other retailers are looking at networking their CCTV,” he said.

The plan for these retailers is to have a central point – also known as a monitoring station – where all their CCTV footage can be handled and analysed either by an in-house team or as an outsourced service at a remote location. 

Atop this centralised arrangement can sit the Facewatch solution that Gordon said signals the end of retailers sending video footage on discs to the Police following the committing of a crime instore.

Instead, it allows them to send it all electronically via email, according to Gordon, who added: “We report incidents to the Police online and can also send information (such as lists of criminals’ identities) back to security guards’ on the shop floor via their smartphones.”

Although there are myriad opportunities from having wireless capability – encompassing both store infrastructure uses and customer applications – Wi-Fi is not for everybody. This is partially because of the current cost involved in rolling it out to a large portfolio of stores. 

Avoiding such costs is France-based grocery chain Casino that has shunned wireless in favour of using an app and near field communications (NFC) enabled electronic shelf-edge labels (ESLs) in its creation of the world’s first fully NFC-enabled store in Belles Feuilles in Paris.

Enhanced communications capabilities

Vincent Berg, chief executive of Think & Go NFC who is the provider of the technology to Casino, said that although this is the first NFC-enabled Casino store, the company has set it up whereby it can run cost-efficiently in stores where there is no Wi-Fi capability. Wireless is only needed at the entry to the store where the app is updated with the latest price list when the customer enters the shop. 

The trial involves the customer tapping their compatible smartphone on the NFC-enabled labels that are integrated into 25,000 of the store’s 30,000 products. The other 5,000 are fresh items that have to be weighed, and their printed barcodes scanned.

Such adventurous and varied initiatives give a clear indication that the increased availability of mobile devices and enhanced communications capabilities present a very exciting future for both retailers and customers. 

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