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3 steps that allow mobile programs to build shopper trust

By Scott Pulsipher

Today’s retail landscape finds mobile retail programs in a catch-22.

On the one side, mobile programs enjoy a position of prominence among shoppers. According to surveys, 49 percent of shoppers use multiple devices when shopping.

These tablets and smartphones give shoppers instant access to product reviews, forums and social media as they cruise the aisles.

In fact, any retailer will tell you it is rare to encounter shoppers who do not have a mobile device in hand.

Smart tone
Done right, mobile retail programs represent an opportunity for retailers to capture lost sales.

In 2013, xAd reports that of the $200 billion in sales mobile influenced, 77 percent of smartphone-influenced purchases happened offline. Only 7 percent took place on a smartphone.

So what is the catch? If mobile is such an opportunity, why are more sales not happening through tablets and smartphones?

The problem is trust. And gaining trust is anything but easy.

According to a recent Forbes article, more than one-third of consumers trust a stranger’s opinion more than they trust branded ads and marketing.

In other words, although mobile devices have assumed the role of in-store advisor – usurping brand associates – they limit the experience that a customer can have if that customer does not know what she is looking for.

Mobile needs to develop the kind of personalized expertise that shoppers can trust.

Eroding trust
Across online and in-store retailing alike, shopper trust in retailers has taken a nosedive. Not necessarily because shoppers do not want help but because they do not trust the help that is being offered.

According to a 2010 survey by Retail Systems Research, 54 percent of respondents wanted knowledgeable store associates more than any other service offering. Shoppers want someone to help and guide them, but 59 percent of respondents believed they knew more about the products than the people paid to help them.

In short, retailers cannot train in-store associates fast enough to keep up with shoppers’ online learning binges.

Shoppers want an expert who can fill in the remaining gaps in their knowledge – advocates who are always ahead of the learning curve, for example. But those advocates are not found in stores or on retailers’ mobile platforms in the moment of purchase.

How can mobile programs overcome this obstacle to regain the trust that retailers have lost with shoppers and improve their sales?

The salvation of mobile programs might be no further than the advocates to whom shoppers are already turning.

Going mobile with advocates
Much ado has been made recently of capturing the passion and expertise of advocates, and with good reason.

Market researcher comScore reports that advocates are proven to be two to three times more effective than non-advocates in persuading others to buy recommended brands.

Most of these advocacy programs have attempted to incent advocates to spread brand messages on social media. Few have talked about how to use these advocates to fix the shortcomings currently seen in mobile retail programs.

Here are three steps that will allow mobile programs to build shopper trust that turns into profitable, long-term loyalty:

1. Identify the right advocates to talk to your customers
Not every advocate out there can work directly with customers. Some advocates are knowledgeable and passionate about a single product line, while others’ expertise span interests that take in multiple brands.

Depending on your program’s goals and the profile of your customers, you will want to decide what kind of advocate is the best fit. Is it loyalists, masters, or enthusiasts or some kind of combination?

2. Bring advocates to your live chat
If you are trying to use mobile to duplicate the trust-building experience of a shopper walking the aisles with a trusted friend, your best bet is to bring advocates onto your site via live interaction. This puts them right in the thick of the purchasing processes, where they can have the most direct effect on conversion.

3. Build or use a platform that gets out of the way
These advocate-shopper interactions have the most power when they feel natural and seamless.

Your platform for these interactions needs to work in your favor but in the background.

Also, to provide the ultimate confidence to shoppers, advocates are more effective when they are not employees. Then they can speak with a fresh perspective about the products.

ADVOCATES ARE an intuitive way to make mobile the personalized, expert human interaction shoppers expect. There is less risk associated with this than one would think.

The data shows that this approach with shoppers pays off. The CSAT scores in a live mobile advocate program are consistently more than nine. Conversion increases six to 15 times over self-service.

These numbers will translate into long-term customer loyalty and equity that brands aspire to on mobile, desktop or in a store.

Scott Pulsipher is president and chief operating officer of, Salt Lake City, UT. Reach him at [email protected]