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Riding the mobile wave

Tuesday December 18 2012

Vince Russell, who heads up a leading UK public Wi-Fi provider, discusses the benefits to retailers of bringing online into the store for increased revenues

Vince Russell, who heads up a leading UK public Wi-Fi provider, discusses the benefits to retailers of bringing online into the store for increased revenues

 

As the mobile boom continues, managing director of The Cloud, Vince Russell said retailers are starting to realise the opportunity this offers, not only in expanding into mobile, or ‘m-commerce,’ but embracing mobile as a way of improving the instore experience.

 

Ofcom has said over half of UK adults use a smartphone and research firm IDC predicted that 2012 tablet shipments will hit 106 million, surging ahead of Christmas. “So it’s clear that mobile internet, has become a key part of everyday life,” said Russell. “Herein lies the opportunity for retail to improve the instore experience for customers and boost sales as a result.”

 

Mobile changing retail landscape

 

“The internet was for a long time seen as a challenge for bricks-and-mortar retail which worried that e-commerce would impact instore footfall and limit sales as a result,” he continued. “The reality is that, while online hasn’t killed the store, it has changed the retail landscape. This is driven largely by customer expectation.”

 

Russell argued that shoppers have come to expect instant access to information about products and services, including prices and reviews. To address these needs, High Street outlets including WHSmith, and Maplin have introduced free WiFi for customers. This allows shoppers to access fast internet via a branded ‘landing page’. From here, customers can browse the net for reviews or use social networks.

 

The landing page itself can also include special offers and discounts, or information about new products – all of which Russell contends adds to the instore experience. “This benefits both customers and retailers, who can drive sales and keep customers instore for longer,” he added. “It also provides an opportunity for retailers to sell advertising space to non-competing brands, perhaps a nearby restaurant, thereby creating a new revenue stream.

 

Enabling shopping search anywhere

 

“The reality is we’re in an age where people research products before they buy and the fact that they’re in a store doesn’t really change that. Even without Wi-Fi, customers could easily use the nationwide 3G or 4G network to surf on their phones as they shop. So no retailer can stop the influence of the internet within their venue. Instead, rather than seeing the internet as a competitor, they must view it as an opportunity.”

 

The Wi-Fi boss also said instore Wi-Fi comes with several advantages that retailers can capitalise on” “In addition to using the branded landing page to advertise special offers and push shoppers in the direction of certain products, retailers can also use anonymised Wi-Fi data to given them greater insight into their customers.

 

“They can look at how their shoppers are using the internet – what product pages they are looking at, what external websites they visit, how long they spend browsing and so on. This lets retailers create in-depth profiles, which they can use to better target customers with offers and new product suggestions through location-based advertising.”

 

Platform for retail innovation

 

Some retailers are also using Wi-Fi to develop even more innovative offerings, for instance by using augmented reality (AR) or quick response (QR) codes to grab consumers’ attention. Marks & Spencer has embraced this with the introduction of ‘browse and order’ points and free Wi-Fi throughout their stores.

 

“This is the kind of service that will drive sales and boost revenues,” Russell explained. “And there is no reason why all retailers cannot achieve this. Embracing the mobile boom does not take away from the main advantage the high street has over the internet – dedicated customer service and human interaction. Customers will check prices on their phone before they buy in a store, but that’s often for their own peace of mind. Even if a product is a bit more expensive in the shop, they’re likely to pay the extra for the chance to ask questions to knowledgeable staff and buy it there and then, rather than ordering it online and then waiting days for delivery.”

 

He concluded: “The bottom line is that the mobile boom is here to stay, and retailers must capitalise on it and reflect how consumers behave today. In doing this, the industry will improve the experience customers get instore and, ultimately, achieve some very welcome revenue increases.”