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Boots uncaps IBM’s inventory-based analytics platform for iOS shopping app

British pharmacy and beauty chain Boots is further integrating mobility into physical stores by leveraging IBM’s MobileFirst platform for its iOS application, enabling associates to browse inventory, give product recommendations based on online analytics and look up ratings and reviews.

Boots employees will now be able to leverage tablet devices while helping shoppers on the sales floor by using Sales Assist to determine desired products’ availability and suggest complementary items. The brand’s new iOS app showcases the possibilities of merging mobile with bricks-and-mortar stores in a way that enhances shopping experiences for customers and associates alike.

“The in-store experience absolutely has to evolve to meet the increasing demands of the mobile shopper,” said Jeff Hasen, founder of Gotta Mobilize and author of The Art of Mobile Persuasion.

Lacquering up mobile-enabled sales
Boots is dedicated to investing in new mobile technology as it ramps up to further augment shoppers’ in-store experiences. IBM’s Sales Assist platform will be deployed on the 3,700 iPad devices currently available to associates in Boots’ bricks-and-mortar locations.

Employees will be able to quickly find product information for inquiring customers, look up ratings and reviews, make item recommendations based on online analytics and search for available inventory, all from the iPads.

Boots’ iOS app will leverage the retailer’s online database to pull accurate information and make associates’ jobs easier. For example, if a customer asks for a product that is no longer in stock, an associate can use the app to determine which nearby locations have it in stock. They can also order the desired product online and allow the customer to pick it up the next day.

Additionally, employees can make more informed item recommendations, particularly if an individual seeks an alternative to a specific product.

This capability is likely to result in a sales boost for Boots, especially if store associates use the iPads to suggest complementary products to beauty enthusiasts.

Transforming the retail industry
The retailer, alongside IBM, sought the feedback of its customer assistants when designing the new app to ensure it would effectively meet associates’ needs. While mobile apps are imperative for any major chain’s customer base, they often times prove to be just as useful for in-store employees.

Boots is linking Sales Assist with its apps and data via IBM’s Bluemix cloud platform.

Other retailers have also experimented with equipping employees with mobile or tablet devices to drive sales, and have seen positive results.

For example, Dick’s Sporting Goods saw its ecommerce sales grow to nearly 15 percent of total sales in 2014’s fourth quarter as a result of the retailer’s decision to equip its sales associates with mobile devices for easy ordering in any aisle (see story).

Ultimately, IBM may see more brands clamoring to leverage its MobileFirst platform as they brainstorm ways with which to marry physical and digital shopping experiences and tap predictive analytics to better understand customer behavior.

An IBM executive at Forrester’s CXNYC 2016 said that the ability to anticipate consumers’ purchasing intent stems from having a 360-degree view of their behavior, which nowadays includes mobile channels, underscoring the need to look at customer engagement as a holistic experience (see story).

“Identifying a customer and personalizing the time in-store is the way for customer service to evolve,” Mr. Hasen said. “Better, more individualized service leads to more loyalty and sales.

“Without it, retailers are living in the past – and failing.”