Mobile phones account for 92% of all ecommerce growth, according to new research from Salesforce. They’re a challenge for physical retailers — not just because customers prefer mobiles for shopping much of the time, but because 71% use them in physical stores.
Shoppers have high expectations of physical stores: 71% do not expect to leave empty handed but, trouble is, the same proportion showroom. Showrooming is rife, up 15% from 2017. Look around physical stores today and see customers squinting at mobiles — three second glances at nearby items, each followed by three minute gazes into cyberspace.
Knowledgeable assistants are expensive and hard to justify when physical stores must compete with online. The Catch 22 is that, when physical stores replace assistants with displays and bots, customers lose human engagement – leaving cyberspace as their only real option.
For customers to leave physical stores reliably with stuff in their hands, physical retailers must displace showrooming with better experiences. Most alternative app experiences today are limited to particular brands or types of products and aren’t used enough to displace ingrained habits like Amazon’s app. Others like quick payment or bypassing checkout entirely are popular, but don’t fill baskets. Alternatives must be fun, mid-journey and satisfy the same needs as showrooming where, according to Publicis, 25% read reviews, 28% take (and presumably share) photos, 29% perform product research and, most pervasively, 36% engage in price comparisons.
Customers normally prefer human advice when they can get it, because it’s easy, interactive and friendly. Good assistants are knowledgeable, intuitive and walk customers through the possibilities, adapting to their knowledge levels as they go. They’re personable and shoot the breeze when appropriate — qualities that engender friendship and loyalty, and web pages and bots lack. And when a kind, friendly assistant helps but volunteers honestly that she’s not the absolute cheapest, how many customers actually walk?
Suppose customers in physical stores could reach these humans with their mobiles in economical ways physical stores can afford?
Retailers like John Lewis are fitting out their assistants with mobile apps. Customers will in future connect seamlessly with the most relevant and knowledgeable assistant according to their product or query, wherever that assistant is. One cooker hob expert per store may be impractical, but several dispersed nationwide and available to all stores is easy economics. Customers get expert advice quickly, and assistants feel valued and utilized — great for customer, employee and employer satisfaction.
Assistants aren’t the only humans customers need. They need friends and family, whom surveys show customers declare as their strongest influences — partly because they’re better judges of personal suitability, especially over unknown contacts, but also because many decisions are collective. Who decides on a cooker hob, suit, sofa or holiday without consulting their friend or partner? Who buys Christmas or wedding gifts without collaboration? Friends are only occasionally in stores with customers, so mobiles are the connection. But when they reach them for advice, sadly snaps and links are all their friends have to go on — making informed, meaningful conversations difficult. Much, in addition to clear reliable advice, is also lost from these chat and telephone conversations. Novelist and movie author Sophie Kinsella observed how “shopping with friends is a great way of enjoying the thrill of the chase without having to make a purchase, and that it is also a bonding opportunity where helping friends find something nice is as rewarding as helping oneself”.
For customers to continue to leave stores with bags brimming, physical retailers need to offer alternatives to showrooming by allowing customers and assistants to share in-store experiences. That means molding local assistants into specialists who each impart advice across all a retailer’s stores — and recognizing friends and family for the valued, free advice, resolve and opportunities they bring. Retailers need to deploy new mobile technologies that restore human conversation in economical and satisfying ways to allow customers, friends and assistants to shop together — wherever they are.
We are the developers of ShopSee: an integrated app solution for retailers that allows assistants and shoppers to share and discuss ideas together. If you want your customers to have a fun and engaging alternative to showrooming, please contact us.