Helen Slaven, Vice President of retail technology expert Torex shows how mobile POS technology can improve the retail experience.
Playing to your strengths
Read a typical article about the future of retail customer service and youre likely to hear about the wonders of automated relationship management systems and the use of artificial intelligence to answer customer queries online. Retailers have long recognised the difficulty of delivering an engaging customer experience online and are understandably keen to improve upon this. However, the excitement surrounding the possibilities of online retailing can sometimes prevent retailers from recognising the strength of their existing resources: from a customer service perspective, the greatest asset retailers possess is their network of high street stores. A real-life customer service assistant will always triumph over a computer.
With the technology powering out-of-store transactions making the headlines, retailers may understandably be tempted to assume that in-store equipment has remained static. This is not the case: though the format of high street outlets has remained consistent (the basic formula of four walls, a roof and a door is still likely be around for some time), the technology driving the in-store experience has advanced significantly.
A retail evolution
Mobile POS technology represents one such development, and one that offers an evolutionary step forward from the fixed checkout points that have been a mainstay of shops since the invention of the cash register in 1879. As the name suggests, mobile POS allows store assistants to access all the features of a traditional fixed POS register, from any point in the store. They can provide a link to detailed and up-to-the-minute information on stock levels, pricing, product features and the latest in-store offers. As well as this, recent advances in wireless security now mean that transactions involving electronic payments can be fully processed from any position on the shop floor.
The customer service benefits that this technology can bring are obvious, whether they drive sales directly or help a store deliver a more personalised, memorable shopping experience. For example, if a customer is looking to buy a pair of jeans, but cannot see the exact size they need on the shelf, a store assistant can use their mobile POS device to quickly check the quantities of goods in the stores stock room to see whether any are available in that size. This saves both the customers time and that of the store assistant by removing the need to return to the checkout in order to verify this information. If the jeans are in stock, the assistant can quickly relay this information to the customer before collecting a pair from the stock room.
Keeping up in a multi-channel market
By providing a link between staff on the shop floor and a retailers back office systems, mobile POS technology can help traditional stores stay relevant in todays fast-changing retail marketplace. Nowadays, the typical retailer has a presence on the high street, online and over the phone, and customers expect to be able to order and return goods interchangeably between these channels. By providing in-store customer service assistants with a link to information about stock availability for both that store, others in the nearby area and the retailers online channel, mobile POS allows them to offer a range of purchasing options. Previously, if an item wasnt in stock at the store a customer was in, the sale would most likely have been lost. With mobile technology, a store assistant can locate and reserve the item in a nearby store, or offer to arrange an in-store or home delivery from the retailers e-commerce channel.
As well as helping integrate in-store shopping with a retailers online offering, the customer service improvements mobile POS technology brings can also drive footfall to high street outlets. With the rising popularity of online retailing, shoppers have become more fickle in their purchasing behaviour. This can be attributed to the ease with which they can browse prices and availability across a number of different retail websites, as well as the relative homogeneity of the shopping experience across the selection of e-commerce portals available. In this respect, a retailers high street outlets provide a much greater opportunity to engage customers with a positive and distinctive retail experience.
The personal touch
Top-quality customer service is essential to achieving this, and mobile POS technology can play a key part in delivering a more personalised and memorable shopping experience. Mobile terminals allow store assistants to come to the customer, as opposed to the customer having to queue whilst waiting to be served. This enables a more personal relationship to be formed, with a single member of staff able to deal with all the customers requests, up to and including completing the transaction. This closer contact with the customer provides an opportunity to increase profits as well as improve customer service. Creating a greater opening for discussion between the store assistant and the shopper increases the number of opportunities for cross- and up-selling. The ability to process transactions using mobile technology on the shop floor eliminates queuing time, reducing the chances of the customer abandoning or changing their mind about a purchase.
Queuing times are of perennial importance to retailers, but at particularly busy periods, they become critical. Sales shoppers are prepared to accept a slightly longer wait to pay for their goods, but once the checkout queue stretches past a certain length, even the most dedicated bargain-hunter is likely to think twice about their purchase. At times like these, mobile POS technology can provide much-needed support to checkout staff, helping reduce queue lengths and disperse them around the store. Indeed, a recent consumer survey by Gartner found that, after having the right products available and easy to find, shoppers rated a fast checkout experience and the availability of staff to provide information as the two most important factors in determining the quality of the retail experience. By giving staff the freedom to assist customers with their enquiries and complete purchases on the shop floor, mobile POS can help create a more welcoming retail environment and generate customer loyalty by supporting a superior shopping experience.
Mobile POS technology is ideally placed to support retailers existing outlets: it builds upon the strengths of the high street in terms of its ability to offer a fully personalised customer service, whilst helping stores offer a more convenient and efficient shopping experience. The technology represents another way for retailers to consolidate their offering to customers, helping modernise in-store processes and linking high street outlets with e-commerce channels.