For all the convenience of ecommerce, it’s worth remembering that brick-and-mortar stores offer a convenience of their own — the ability to get what you need same-day, with help from a knowledgeable sales associate. It’s this reality that will drive nearly 80 percent of customers into a store at some point this year.

But if a customer arrives at your store and discovers they not only can’t find the item they need, but can’t even find a sales associate to talk to, there’s a strong chance they’ll head right back out the door. That’s just one reason retailers’ top priority for the coming years should be making the retail experience smarter, more efficient and more predictable using mobility and in-store analytics.

The Leaky Toilet Scenario

Consider this scenario. A man named Marco wakes up to find his toilet is leaking. He’s no plumber, but he wants to at least attempt a fix before paying for an expert.

So Marco troubleshoots with a quick Google search, lands on a couple of potential explanations for his toilet troubles, and, by using his local DIY big box store’s app to chat with an associate, is able to confirm that the store carries toilet repair items. He gets in his car and heads for the store.

Meanwhile, another sales associate named Jerry, who works at Marco’s closest branch, is alerted that Marco has been searching the store’s app for toilet repair and that he’s on his way over. When Marco arrives, Jerry greets him by name and asks what’s going wrong with his toilet.

Marco explains the situation, and Jerry runs through a series of questions on his tablet to help diagnose Marco’s problem. Jerry is able to recommend a fix, and confirms the store can offer the part at a lower price than competitors. He then shows Marco a two-minute video on how to complete the repair.

Based on Marco’s inexperience and the complexity of the fix, the two decide it’s better for Marco to get a plumber to make the repair. Jerry contacts a plumber, who schedules an appointment with Marco over the phone and takes over the service call from there.

Marco would never guess this was Jerry’s first day on the job. It didn’t matter. The store equipped Jerry with all of the tools and information he needed to help solve Marco’s problem.

How Data Helps Retailers Deliver Great Service

This level of service may not be entirely possible today, but retailers are already discovering the optimization benefits of equipping sales associates and cashiers with tablets. At times, they can even use mobile devices to untether cashiers from their cash-and-wrap stations, elevating them to the role of sales associates, so more customers can be served more efficiently.

Mobility helps retailers improve efficiency when it comes to stocking as well. Rather than scanning individual boxes, cameras can be used in combination with Scandit or other AI technology to photograph and catalog an entire row at once. Suddenly, full-time stocking personnel can also become sales associates.

Using a one-device-to-one-employee ratio, retailers can also track employee actions and pinpoint high performers and trouble spots. This makes managing thousands of employees across hundreds of locations easier and more accurate.

Towards a Mobile Future

This massive shift in the way retail does business won’t happen overnight, but it’s time for retailers to start making strides toward delivering smarter, more personalized experiences.

They’ll have to approach this from two angles:

  • Building the hardware ecosystem: In the short term, retailers need to commit to in-store mobility. Equipping associates with mobile devices — such as Galaxy tablets or the J-series mobile phones — will enable stores to streamline workforce responsibilities, better serve customers and help employees be star sales associates from their first day on the job. In the longer run, it also means investing in IoT architecture, including cameras, sensors, IoT beacons, wearables and RFID tags to capture in-store data.
  • Analyzing and leveraging the data: Of course, there’s no point capturing data unless you have the ability to use it to create breakthrough customer experiences. This is where partnering with data analytics companies will become a competitive advantage for retailers in the coming era of in-store analytics.

Retail Should Learn from Ecommerce, Not Fear It

There’s no question online shopping has changed retail, and that’s exactly why brick-and-mortar stores should take a lesson. Ecommerce stores capture and leverage data to provide exceptional, personal customer experiences. Brick-and mortar retailers can do the same thing using in-store mobility and IoT to provide convenience and a personal touch from corner to corner.

If you haven’t already, it’s time to start making serious steps toward a smarter, more mobile in-store sales experience. Give customers a reason to not only seek out your store, but browse, convert and keep coming back for more.

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