I’ll dig into a few ideas in mobile retail apps space, which might significantly change both the customer’s and retailer’s experience. There’s a few common requirements for retail apps – they should provide an exceptional user experience with the intuitive UI and short learning curve, because you should consider the most non tech savvy customers and employees when targeting your app features.
The apps should be incredibly fast and reliable, able to withstand heavy network load or connection issues with the fallback options, because there’s nothing more frustrating than the customer being unable to buy something. And they should provide an incentive for the user to actually prefer the apps to other means through additional loyalty points, discounts, or even wow or touch candy factors. They should be cool to use, not cumbersome.
Self check out
Just imagine – you walk into the store, you grab nice pants, scan the bar code with your iPhone, tap the pay button and you walk out of the store. No need to look out for the sales people running around with other customers or hiding somewhere, no need to line up with the dozens of other people at the checkout. Fast and easy, right? An additional perk is that you might get a surprising in-store discount applied on your purchase automatically and bonus loyalty points for being such a great customer, especially if you’ve ordered something online before.
It appears like a huge win-win on both sides so why it’s still not here? There’s a catch for the store though. How do they know that you actually paid for the purchase when you walk out with it? It poses an interesting technological challenge. How can you make a customer experience as seamless and unobtrusive as possible? How do you make an automatic loss prevention gate recognize that the item has been paid for and there’s no need for the alarm to go off? While there are some existing solutions available like a self-checkout counter, the mobile app only solution would be the most elegant one and it requires significant R&D. The integration with the existing retail systems poses a significant challenge as well.
Currently you can do a self-checkout with the Apple store app at the Apple retail store. However, the process works only with items with no serial number and as soon as you grab something and you’re on your way out more likely than not you’ll see somebody in the blue shorts running to intercept you and ask if you need any help with your purchase. I know, weird. It shouldn’t be like that.
From the retailer’s perspective, self-checkout apps have a variety of benefits. They will help reduce the workforce and payable hours because now you don’t need as many employees as before, increase customer satisfaction because who wants to spend an hour in the store if you know exactly what you want, increase sales because customers who previously left the store not patient enough to wait to be served now will be served. As additional bonus for the stores, they now can better track not only online, but in-store customers as well, providing better loyalty programs and tailoring the customer experience to the needs of their audience.
Inventory and POS
Inventory and Point of Sale systems are the most used and essential applications in retail. It’s crucial for the store to have an accurate inventory count, being able to automatically replenish items, avoid overstocking, predict the demand and track bestsellers.
Just imagine, as a retail employee you’re able to locate any item from your stock within a moment with an intuitive visual search. If the item is out of stock, you can direct the customer to a different location or online store without extra effort. If the customer has any questions about the features of the item, it’s just one tap away. You can don’t have to take the customer to the checkout counter as you can do all of it on your mobile device. Sounds incredible, right? Considering the current legacy, POS systems are very slow, unintuitive, require intensive training, and can stop working at any time.
Retailers want easy to use, fast, and reliable inventory and point of sale systems working on tablets and smartphones. They want to replace their slow, old retail systems with the cool, new stuff providing predictive analytics, data-driven personalized marketing and eCommerce integration.
Wouldn’t it be cool for you as a store manager to actually accurately predict the demand and never run out of stock or be overstocked with the items? What if the retail system can advise you based on the market trends what products, pricing, and promotions will set you apart?
Employee time management and training
If you’re a retail employee, how cool would it be to have your schedule available at any time within a standalone app? After login with your id/password you can check your start and end time, your breaks and lunch time. If the management decides to adjust the schedule, you’ll get a push notification. You don’t have to constantly monitor your schedule via email and phone, write it down, and put in your calendar manually every week.
Most of the employees in retail work part time with limited availability, which poses a significant challenge for the management and takes a long time to create an ok schedule.
What if the scheduling app for management can actually make recommendations based on employee availability, and monitor idle and busy periods in the store so the understaffed/overstuffed issue goes away, employees satisfaction increases, and management has to spend less time on these issues?
Tracking employee attendance and work hours can take a significant amount of time. Now if you allow employees to do a punch in/punch out on their personal smartphone, checking geolocation to make sure it’s accurate, then the punch in/punch out process becomes seamless as all you have to do is tap a button in the spp and based on geolocation data the server will automatically log the shift time.
Any new products or technologies arriving this season? Need improvements in customer service training? Why not to make it a part of employee app – management will be able to push updates, and track the completion and progress being made. The core metrics such as customer satisfaction and sales volume, store ranking can also be displayed on the employee account.
Retail industry is ripe for disruption and innovation despite being very reluctant to changes. There’s huge potential in improving user experience, increasing efficiency in the workflow, cost saving, and using data to increase sales and customer satisfaction.