Mobile technology has made its way into the core strategies of businesses of all sizes. Whether it's with a branded app, a text message marketing campaign or just a mobile-optimized website, companies in nearly all industries are adopting and embracing mobile as a way to connect with their customers.
"We're in the third wave of mobile," said Eric Johnson, CFO and co-founder of mobile app security and operations firm Moki. "The first was when everyone got mobile devices. The second was BYOD, which brought mobile into the workplace. In the third wave, companies are now touching consumers via mobile."
Part of the development of this business-to-consumer mobile trend has been the use of tablets in brick-and-mortar stores. Bigger brands like Apple and Nordstrom have been using mobile devices as in-store point-of-sale (POS) systems for several years now, but other companies, including small retailers, franchises and restaurants, have begun to introduce tablets as a way to drive sales and customer engagement. [5 Trends That Are Shaping Mobile Commerce]
"Retailers are starting to leverage tablets in a way that allows for more engagement with the shopper," said Giovanni DeMeo, vice president of global marketing and analytics at retail event marketing firm Interactions. "Stores can give more information about products, product demos and other details that might be available online, but [using tablets] gives a more positive experience within the retail environment."
Johnson said that there are five major areas of the retail experience that are changing because of in-store tablet use:
In-store payment processing. As mentioned earlier, retailers are gradually replacing POS hardware with mobile devices. While some business owners like POS tablets for their sleek, high-tech look, many retailers also benefit from the easy-to-upgrade software and the data-collecting abilities of mobile apps.
Customer self-service. With in-store tablets, customers can help themselves. If your company has a loyalty program, the customer can type in his or her rewards number. They can search for products and place an order quickly and efficiently. In the restaurant industry, for example, tablets are being used to allow customers to select menu items without waiting for a server.
"Tablets aren't replacing staff," Johnson said. "Companies are just looking to serve customers better by allowing them to [complete actions] they can do on their own. It's quicker and easier, and people are comfortable with that."
Product displays. As a small retailer, you likely don't have a lot of space for large volumes of inventory in the store. If you don't have what a customer is looking for while he or she is shopping, you can use tablets to display your full range of products online, and even complete the transaction there in the store so the customer doesn't have to look for it elsewhere.
"Tablets open up an opportunity for small retailers to expand their product offerings without having the physical merchandise on hand," DeMeo added. "With same- or next-day delivery, you can allow shoppers access to more items."
Signage and in-store advertising. Instead of putting up printed signs and flyers that can only be used for a limited time, some retailers are choosing to broadcast their announcements via in-store tablet. Johnson noted that the biggest advantage of digital ads like these is the ability to quickly and easily change, rearrange and schedule display content, so that a retailer's only real cost is the price of the tablet itself.
"Picture this" selling. One reason that consumers continue to visit brick-and-mortar stores is to physically see and feel an item before they purchase it. Tablets can help retailers enhance this experience and bring in extra digital content that will help customers see the product in action.
"You want people to experience as much of the brand as possible," Johnson said. "Photo and video content [on tablets] in-store lets customers see and experience more about that product."
Implementing tablet use as a small brick-and-mortar retailer may seem like a costly investment, but Johnson and DeMeo agreed that making the switch is more affordable than most business owners think, and in the long run, it can even benefit the bottom line.
"Tablet technology is not expensive," DeMeo said. "The cost of the tablet itself and access to information [on your company's website via tablet] is relatively low. Almost any retailer can take advantage of it and save long-term on POS hardware."
DeMeo believes that the future of brick-and-mortar stores is going to be all about focusing on the in-store shopper experience, especially as e-commerce continues to thrive.
"Retailers used to have all the power," DeMeo told Business News Daily. "Now it's shifting to consumers. [Brands will] continue to bring the offline world online and blur that line to engage with shoppers more effectively."
Originally published on Business News Daily