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Gap ramps up mobile to mimic flagship store experience

NEW YORK – Gap Inc. is equipping more of its stores with mobile devices to leverage employee training videos, highlight additional inventory for shoppers and emulate the experience of a flagship store in the hopes of driving sales, suggesting that mobile is cementing its status as a virtual shopping assistant for many brands.

During the “Exhibitor BIG !deas – The New Retail: Real-time, Intuitive and Engaging Mobile Experiences” session at the NRF 104th Annual Convention & Expo, a Gap executive discussed how the brand is incorporating iOS devices into its bricks-and-mortar stores nationwide, providing associates with a quick way of accessing additional product information when selling items to consumers. The mobile devices are also optimal for allowing store managers to undertake workforce management while on the floor, so that they may spend less time in the back room and more time interacting with customers face-to-face.

“Customers are coming in with mobile devices, so we need to equip our associates with mobile devices that allow them to check inventories, place orders online, ship from a store,” said Roger Kibbe, senior director of omnichannel architecture at Gap Inc., San Francisco.

“We’ve just scratched the surface of what mobile can do for retail. Mobility is a big part of change in customer experience in stores.”

Empowering sales associates
Gap’s experiences with implementing mobile devices in stores have shown that sales associates feel empowered in knowing they have additional product information and enhanced capabilities to help complete a sale right at their fingertips. If a consumer is interested in an item but hesitant about purchasing, the associate can pull up the product on the iOS devices and show additional sizes, colors and styles it may go well with, which can push the customer to the point of sale.

This ultimately results in a frictionless experience for the employee and for the customer. Air Watch, the sponsor of the session, referred to this relationship as the “Uberfication” of retail: just as Uber users can tap and go to request a car, shoppers and employees can also use mobile to find specific products quickly and make the process much more streamlined.

“Associates are getting devices they’re familiar with,” Mr. Kibbe said. “They want them; they want to use them to enable what they’re doing.

“Most of mobile is built around servicing the customer.”

Having mobile devices in store is also imperative during seasonal times when consumer traffic is an all-time high. If a specific store has run out of inventory for a product and a shopper comes in searching for it, mobile devices will ensure it can easily be ordered and shipped to the guest.

Gap has seen some challenges in equipping all of its stores with iOS devices in a quick manner. However, the efficiency and productivity the devices yield overpower any housekeeping issues.

“We have the ability to build mobile apps for managers so they can sit with tablets on the floor and do things like workforce management,” Mr. Kibbe said. “The more time that I can get my associates on the floor and out of back room, the better we’re servicing our customers.

“There’s a huge unlock on building tools that let you out on the floor.”

Singular brand experience
The Gap executive admitted that most of its stores found in malls nationwide do not necessarily emulate the experience a customer might have while visiting a flagship brand store, such as the one located on 5th Ave. in New York. Flagship stores generally offer inventory in more colors, sizes and styles, which has prompted the brand to tap mobile to bridge the gap between flagship and non-flagship bricks-and-mortar stores.

“We have a great brand experience for flagship stores,” Mr. Kibbe said. “Mobile and digital are a really great way to unlock that in a smaller store; there is a rich brand experience.

“We can use that mobility to show customers other colors, other sizes. Mobile and digital are a great way to equalize stores and give the large brand experience that you get in a flagship store.”

The executive also claimed that Gap, Inc. may look to incorporate beacons into storefronts in the future – provided that they are used in a way that does not frustrate shoppers. However, the company must be cognizant of different consumer needs within each of its six clothing brands, which also include Old Navy, Banana Republic and the high-end Intermix.

While Gap is hesitant about sending push notifications that simply walk into one of its stores, it would be more likely to send a customized deal after a customer has stood in front of a particular section for some time or has visited multiple times.

“We’re experimenting with some of these technologies,” Mr. Kibbe said. “The mobile shopping assistant needs to be tailored to each brand.”

Final Take
Alex Samuely is an editorial assistant on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York