Blog Trends

The Future of Retail Is Mobility (And the Future Starts Now)

The future of retail is mobility, or the ability to move freely and easily through our world. Mobility means not having to dig for cash, wait in line, or wait for a check. It means not being tied to a sales counter, not making unnecessary trips, and not getting lost in the aisles of a megastore.

Smartphones are the primary enablers of this mobility, but in years to come, mobility will include any number of different devices, from Google Glass to smartwatches. These mobile devices serve as the connective tissue between us, between the physical and virtual worlds.

Every morning on my way in to the office, I stop for a cappuccino. There are a number of coffee shops on my route, but my favorite is a boutique espresso stand. The coffee is great, the people are wonderful, and they know exactly how I like my drink. Unfortunately, there are many days when I skip that stand and head for another. Why? Two words: cash only.

It’s hard to imagine how companies like my favorite coffee shop will survive unless they embrace the choice and convenience mobile platforms afford.

Serving the mobile customer

Today, innovative companies like Square enable boutique retailers to accept payments from mobile devices. But the advantages that mobile devices offer don’t end there. Starbucks, for example, is leveraging its customers’ mobile phones not only for payments, but also to push loyalty rewards, personalized offers, and even the ability to Tweet a coffee to a friend.

In the near future, we will likely see innovative companies like Starbucks leveraging the power of big data and mobile to not only meet customers’ needs but also anticipate them. If, for example, Starbucks combines my current location with the time of day and my purchase history, it would be possible for the coffee company to send me a notification prompting me to buy my coffee before I even get out of my car.

So what are some other innovative companies doing?

- Apple enables customers to scan and purchase select accessories right from their phones. Read more about Apple and other companies using mobile payment apps.
- Lowe’s helps customers locate any in-stock product in the store with an in-store map.
- Saks Fifth Avenue allows customers to perform price and inventory checks using its mobile app.
- T-Mobile uses tablets to untether its sales associates from the sales counter. New applications are being developed for these tablets to streamline the onboarding process for new customers and educate prospective customers.
- Clothing store Hointer added QR codes to its jeans. A customer simply scans a code, and a pair of jeans in his size is delivered to a dressing room.
- Customers at The Home Depot can view augmented reality on their mobile devices to preview how products will look in their homes.

Too many retailers, even today, view the internet as a threat. They cite the growth of online sales and ever-shrinking margins. But savvy retailers will embrace technology and see it for what it really is: an opportunity to better serve their customers and gain a competitive advantage.