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Physical assets underpin mobile’s next phase of in-store growth

With the bulk of discussion about mobile commerce now moving towards how the medium can influence in-store sales, physical assets including kiosks and signage will play a key role in how brands and retailers weave mobile into every step of the bricks-and-mortar shopping experience.

Despite the growing interest in mobile-triggered activations such as beacons and other types of location-based technology in-store, incorporating and promoting digital within stores is still a challenge for many marketers. Marrying up a digital physical asset with a mobile component gives retailers traditional, tactile resources that they are already familiar with to create in-store experiences.

“In-store digital displays have an important role in shopper marketing, but that role is changing,” said Jason Goldberg, Chicago-based vice president of the commerce practice at Razorfish.

“In-store digital displays have evolved from being standalone experiences to be being part of a larger multi-touch shopping journey,” he said.

Keeping a physical presence?
A number of big brands have stepped up their digital in-store efforts recently to connect with consumers.

However, what is interesting about some of the newer tactics retailers are using is the role that a physical asset still plays as a way to connect bricks-and-mortar shopping with digital components.

For example, Coca-Cola Australia is piloting about 50 smart fridges around the world. The appliances integrate in-store tracking, facial recognition and touch screens that can then be used to send out personalized offers and promotions based on a set of factors that the devices pick up on (see story).

Coca-Cola’s tests underscore the role that in-store kiosks play in fueling multichannel in-store efforts. Although mobile is included as a piece of the program, it is only a small part of the overall effort.

Consumer-packaged-good brands in particular are under increasing pressure to stay relevant with younger grocery shoppers who are ignoring traditional marketing tactics such as point-of-sale displays and shelf talkers to instead look at their mobile devices.

In fact, Mondel?z International has shifted a lot of the focus of its Mobile Futures program, which dedicates 10 percent of marketing spend towards mobile for a handful of brands, towards smaller, point-of-sale products for this reason. Now in its second year, Mondel?z cites gum and candy sold at cash registers as some of the most successful programs to come out of Mobile Futures so far (see story).

In these cases, a physical kiosk gives CPG brands the kinds of tactical assets that they already know how to merchandise around to gain market share.

“While much has been made of defining the distinctions between the various connected interfaces, be they mobile, tablet, digital signage or in-store kiosks, what has been lost in the debates over how best to use each distinctly is how best to address the radical shift in digital user experience expectations and screen agnosticism,” said Scott Forshay, senior strategist at Mutual Mobile, Austin, TX.

“This represents a fundamental shift from technology-centric marketing models to one of experience-centricity,” he said.

“This is no exclusively digital replacement for the tactile, in-store retail experience. It is important to consider that the objective is not to replace the physical retail experience through digital technologies, but to augment it.”

Although not a CPG brand, Apple is already following this approach with iPad-based digital signage that double as iBeacons. These digital assets are placed on tables next to products that send out location-based alerts to consumers who have the brand’s iPhone app downloaded and open in-store.

“What kiosks do better than anything is draw shoppers’ attention in the store to highlight certain products or categories,” Mr. Goldberg said.

“For this reason, kiosks are particularly popular with brands that are trying to have their own voice in a retail store and elevate their own products above the competitive offering that are available,” he said.

Powering user-generated content
The increasing number of in-store mobile and social photo campaigns are another example of mobile’s impact for larger-scale in-store campaigns.

For example, British retailer Selfridge’s is celebrating its biggest beauty event and issue-raising event with digital photo booths that are powered by a hashtag (see story).

The campaign does not exclusively take place on a smartphone or tablet, but instead is set up with mobile content because it is implied that it is the platform that consumers will primarily participate on while in-store.

The content from these photos is then bundled together to create a window display at Selfridge’s Oxford Street store and online.

Uniqlo similarly leverages user-generated content with in-store photo booths and magic mirrors that is then spun out via social media, mobile and the Web.

A physical in-store photo booth asset is a key part in both of these strategies as a way for Selfridge’s and Uniqlo to better control and repurpose some of the growing social and mobile content that users are churning out while shopping.

Collecting user-generated content through photo booths and kiosks is a fairly easy way for retailers to make the in-store experience a bit more fun, but retailers still have a ways to go in turning these experiences into driving sales since executives cite engagement and social as two of the biggest areas of opportunity.

“Scenarios that seem to work are more playful, less informative and involve interaction,” said Travis Parsons, founder of Cloud Castle Group, Charlotte, NC.

“For instance, imagine a billboard kiosk that has a hidden message that you can only see when viewing through your mobile camera with the store’s app,” he said. “The obvious call-to-action is to take a photo, post it to Facebook and then unlock a perk.”

Final Take
Lauren Johnson is associate reporter on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York