Future Mobile Features to Shift Time From Stores to Mobile

It’s happening everywhere you look – in restaurants, on the train, during meetings, and even in the restroom. People are doing all sorts of things on their mobile phones; they are checking email, reading news, gaming, searching, occasionally browsing branded content and shopping. They are multi-tasking and being more productive during their downtime – what I call “time shifting,” a term borrowed from the DVR industry.

A key challenge for us marketers is to shift this precious time in our favor. That’s why larger sums of money are now pouring into mobile advertising in an attempt to distract users from their current tasks. Personally I do not advocate paid interruption marketing such as mobile banner advertising, so many others in the industry and I have advocated mobile marketing that delivers brand messages more as a service or as a branded app that delivers utility. The popularity of a branded app will, in many cases, depend on how effective it performs as a time-shifting tool that increases its users’ productivity.

In this article I will focus on time-shifting for branded apps for business with physical stores. This is because 1) mobile is the medium that can uniquely integrate online with offline brand experiences, and have already started to transform local commerce, 2) this is a segment where I see huge opportunities to improve customer service because very few branded apps are actually delivering some much-needed in-store customer service. The current physical store/mobile integration of most apps is quite superficial and most often (at best) involves only a store locator.

It’s time to for apps to think inside the stores rather than just getting people there.

Addressing Customer Pain Points

As I reflect on my bad brand experiences, they typically happen on the phone or in-store. What do I mean by “bad”? Very simply these are bad or bland (little or no value added) experiences related to a brand that can easily negate all of the good experiences from the same brand. Generally these events have to do with waiting or bad information.

Thanks to smartphones, I can now time-shift and turn in-store waiting time and lack of information into more productive time, but I started to wonder if there is a way for us to turn some of the in-store bottlenecks into mobile service opportunities – features that users can perform when they have downtime elsewhere?

My list of top pain points:

  • Queuing for anything -Waiting to get a seat, waiting to get a menu and place the order, and waiting to pay.
  • Customer service folks not remembering me. (Do you really need to ask me to spell out every digit of my account and contact number when I’m calling you from my mobile phone?)
  • Browsing a store (fashion in particular) only to find it doesn’t have exactly what I want  (missing my size). When my wife goes clothes shopping she wishes that all available size two items in her favorite colors can magically appear before her on a rack.
  • Unable to earn points because I don’t have my VIP program card or loyalty punch card.
  • Get more information and reviews about a product. (Often the customer service folks either don’t know or are not available).

In-Store Experiences to Be Enhanced by Mobile

Looking at the above pain points, it appears to me that brand retailers can address many of them in their branded mobile apps and greatly improve in-store customer service as a result. Some possible feature enhancements:

  • If you have a queue, let me get a queue number and an expected wait time before I arrive. Send me an SMS when my number is about to be called.
  • Allow me to browse, filter, and select items in stock in the store, and put them in a basket/cart on my way to the store.
  • Let me link my credit card number to your mobile app, so that I can just shop, pre-pay, pick up in the store, and go. If there are any changes to the order then I’ll resort to the traditional cashier.
  • Allow me to “check in” and proactively identify myself; make everything you know about me available to your customer service folks. If I’m a member of your VIP program, automatically apply discounts and reward points.
  • Let me scan a product’s barcode, tag or take a picture, and find out more detailed information about it. If it’s out of stock, let me order it online.
  • Put the power of social curation to work for me. Show me what my friends and your other customers have said about your products while I’m using your mobile app. Save me the time required to look up that information myself.

Seeing that many business websites still only have addresses without maps on their store locator pages, doing what I’ve described above may seem like a stretch. It’s not.

San Francisco start-up GoPago has already launched a popular platform for merchants to easily deploy such services to reduce the amount of time customers need to spend in-store. Apps like these will fundamentally change customer’s in-store experience. Seeing the success and demand of such services, I anticipate many retailers upgrading their mobile apps to help their customers save more time and reduce frustration in the coming months.

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