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What is working and what is creepy with in-store mobile: report

As more bricks-and-mortar retailers employ mobile and tablet devices to augment consumers’ in-store experiences and drive point-of-sale purchases, they must also be aware of features which customers find helpful, such as product reviews, and those that individuals find abrasive, such as digital display prices, according to a new report from RichRelevance.

The omnichannel personalization firm’s “Creepy or Cool” study aims to shed light on consumers’ attitudes toward in-store digital enhancements, which are becoming more plentiful by the month. Shoppers generally appreciate help from mobile devices in finding specific items or locating reviews, but balk at features involving facial recognition technology.

“Retailers in the U.S. have been careful to avoid the ‘creepy’ factor with their in-store mobile offerings,” said Diane Kegley, chief marketing officer at RichRelevance, San Francisco, CA. “They are focused on delivering convenience and value in ways that are both transparent and comfortable to shoppers.

“While in-store and in-app promotions and push notifications can pique customer interest and encourage longer visits, ultimately it’s those retailers that place control in the customer’s hands — and help them quickly take care of business that are winning ‘cool’ points. By remaining transparent with all mobile offerings, they ensure that they’re always respecting the shopper.”

The ‘cool’ features
Retailers seeking to ramp up on mobile tactics in-store must keep in mind that consumers typically prefer digital personalization only when they are ready to engage, which is usually right before making a purchase.

RichRelevance’s survey, which saw 1,016 respondents participate in April 2015, discovered that 76 percent of customers appreciate the ability to scan an item with their smartphone to receive additional product information, reviews and suggestions for similar items.

Meanwhile, 69 percent tapped in-store interactive maps on mobile which show exact locations of products with a “cool” label. These types of features are also handy during peak shopping times, such as Black Friday, when consumers are seeking the most time-efficient path through the store.

In terms of location-based targeting, 44 percent of respondents labeled it as “cool,” and enjoy receiving personalized offers and recommendations on their mobile phone during the shopping process.

“Retailers should offer shoppers digital personalization only when they’re ready to engage,” Ms. Kegley said. “This may not be the moment they walk in the door or even when they hit the dressing room, but our survey suggests they welcome relevant information (interactive map, product discovery or reviews) and promotions when they’re in the process of making a purchase decision.

“Newer forms of engagement (such as those in the dressing room) will require more transparency or explanation on the part of the retailer to help the shopper feel secure. Personalizing mobile offerings in store presents a major opportunity for retailers to define customer interaction in the store of the future.”

Gap Inc. is one of the major brands that 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 (see story).

Verging on “creepy”
While millennial shoppers are more accepting of facial recognition technology, 73 percent of survey respondents claimed that having digital screens target advertisements based on age or gender is “creepy.”

Sixty-two percent were also not in favor of a sales associate opening the dressing room door based on consumers’ locations in-store. Seventy-four percent prefer not to be greeted by name when entering a store due to a smartphone signaling their arrival.

The survey was also divided by demographics, and showed that millennials had mostly similar responses to their older counterparts, although older audiences were less comfortable with facial recognition features. Millennials were the only group to rate dynamic pricing in aisles as more cool than creepy.

Ultimately, retailers must leverage mobile in a way that provides contextual shopping experiences to consumers. Pharmacy brand Walgreens, with its significant mobile loyalty program, is a brand that exemplifies smart digital strategy.

“Walgreens is a clear leader when it comes to mobile engagement,” Ms. Kegley said. “Not only does its pharmacy app allow users to quickly fill prescriptions, locate medicines and clip and save coupons on your rewards card, it even allows customers to chat directly with a pharmacist.

“By developing mobile features centered on convenience — and that demonstrate genuine interest in their customers’ health — Walgreens has created a recipe for successful customer engagement.”

Meanwhile, Neiman Marcus is the example to emulate when pondering incorporating beacon technology into stores.

“Whereas many retailers will use beacons to push coupons to in-store customers, Neiman Marcus is using the technology to promote in-store events (only on the day of the event, when a shopper is in a store),” Ms. Kegley said. “The beacon-triggered notifications not only inform shoppers about trunk shows, guest designers, book signings and other in-store events, but also provide the time of the event and directions to the event.

“Piloting atypical use cases that are easy to deploy represent a quick way to gain consumer insight and refine future mobile efforts.”

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