The Role of Tablets In Retail Sales & Marketing

Recently, an article appeared on iMedia Connection that caught my attention. The article  talked about tablets, and how they could be used by retailers to revolutionize the in-store shopping experience. While I agree the retail industry could make better use of technology, there are some points in the article on which I wanted to comment and share an opinion. My comments, etc. are in bold.

3 Reasons Retail Employees Must Have Tablets
Matt Diehl
Media Planning & Buying
Posted on January 13, 2016

Knowledgeable retail store associates are more important today than ever before. Don’t get me wrong — every customer-facing employee should be friendly and approachable, but having all the answers is No. 1. It doesn’t matter how wide your smile is if you’re clueless about the product line.

MoM: Mr. Diehl, I could not agree with you more. In-depth product knowledge is key in today’s retail sales environment, but this is only half of the equation. The other half is the overall customer experience and the delivery of world-class customer service.

tabelt in retail

In fact, a retail study revealed that associates who know more, sell more. 87 percent more. The same study also showed 75 percent of customers will buy a specific item when an advocate recommends it. Educating and empowering employees will give them more confidence to approach and advise every single customer who walks in the store.

MoM: While it’s interesting to know the advantages of an employee having product knowledge and making recommendations, it would be just as interesting to know how companies go about training, educating and keeping employees motivated to learn product and build a deep product knowledgebase. Also, of the employees in the study who “know more,” do they know more as a result of their own training, education and motivation, or is it a result of what the retailer offers and provides? 

The fast lane to employee empowerment is here — retail employee tablets. The concept isn’t breaking news, but the ability to personalize customer shopping certainly is. Do you remember when retail staff started wearing headsets? People were blown away. Some thought, “Wow, this store is really high-tech.” Others said, “Employees can communicate instantly now. They must care about their customers.” All of these positive viewpoints gave stores a hip-yet-focused appeal that resonated with a wide audience.

Fast forward to the present, and you’re often greeted by a smile and a tablet. Tablet-based customer service is revolutionizing the in-store shopping experience, and the first significant wave of the revolution is starting to rise nationwide.

MoM: Mr. Diehl, a few points come to mind in reading the last couple of paragraphs.

First, at a time when many consumers walk into a retail store armed with their own smartphone or tablet, what’s the difference between the sales associate having a tablet or the consumer, because both are accessing the company’s website for information? Where exactly is the revolution?

Second, I have been in situations where the in-store WiFi network has gone down and the sales associate helping me almost doesn’t know what to say or do without having access to his/her tablet. In this situation, it seems as though the tablet is more of a sales crutch than a sales enabler, and this is a fine line that retailers need to realize and tread lightly on. To give a sales employee a tablet and simply say, “here, go sell” is much different than providing an employee with extensive and continual product training and saying, “now that you have mastered our products, here’s a tablet to help you provide detailed, value-added and or comparative information about our products, etc.”

Third, as more and more retailers provide tablets to their sales employees, the tablet-based in-store shopping experience will become commoditized. If that’s the case then, what’s next? Retailers need to think several steps ahead and focus on how the use of in-store tablets will be different than the competition and truly make a difference to the customer experience. 

So what are the advantages? How will the tablet change retail shopping forever? A whitepaper by Motorola Solutions can help shed some statistical light on the subject. Here are three ways the brick-and-mortar retail experience will change forever and for the better:

Customer Identification

Imagine a world where store associates can identify a customer the moment they walk through the door. Thanks to a WLAN connection to the customer’s mobile device, the employee’s tablet will instantly display a customer profile including name, purchase history, price sensitivity, app behavior, and more. This instant synopsis will launch a customized shopping experience from the get-go.

According to the Motorola report, 76 percent of retailers fail to identify when a specific customer is in the store. Imagine your employee greeting a customer like this: “Hi Shannon. I see you bought a maroon skirt last week. Did you know the matching leggings and jacket are on sale today? Our sunglasses and hats are also 40 percent off. Where would you like to start?” The opportunities provided by customer identification benefit both sides of the register and will only get more personalized over time.

MoM: This sounds great, but what if a consumer does not have their mobile device enabled to provide such personal or previous shopping information? Isn’t this the same issue that has slowed the adoption and use of in-store beacons? In this scenario, there is a great reliance on the consumer to make customer identification work, but shouldn’t the reliance really be on the in-store sales associate? There was a time when sales associates had books, and these books were filled with a client’s personal information and shopping preferences, etc., and this is how a sales associate identified and got to know their clientele. Seems outdated, maybe, but it worked. Technology is great in many instances, but it isn’t a silver bullet and it should not be used as a crutch.     

Employee Engagement

At its core, retail personalization is all about engagement and empowering employees. Assisted selling will give them insight like never before. Smart inventory will allow employees to view stock, in real time, at their store and all neighboring stores. And when retailers run campaigns to build their marketing lists, employees can opt-in customers in a flash.

MoM: Yes, tablets can help employees provide in-store consumers with up-to-date stock, inventory and delivery information, but this does not necessarily make a shopping experience that much more personal. At the heart of the matter is product information, competitive comparisons, value-added information, etc., and often times consumers are more confident in their own knowledge in all of these areas than in an in-store sales associate. If that’s the case then, how does a retailer go about changing this? As mentioned above, I believe, it’s a matter of removing the tablet as a sales crutch and providing employees with deep product knowledge. 

POS opt-ins have always been a successful way to build marketing programs and tablets make it that much easier. Retailers can also add incentives to sales and opt-in campaigns by holding contests or offering prizes to top performers. It can be per employee or on a larger scale between stores and districts. It’s important to understand that employees will feel empowered walking the floor with a tablet in hand. Harness that power.

MoM: Yes, I can see tablets making the POS opt-in process easier and quicker. This is one example where tablets make sense.

Point of Sale/Payment

Who wants to wait 10 minutes in line behind the guy arguing about his discount? No one. The third and final advantage of this list is the ability to checkout anywhere in the store. The entire personalized experience loses value if the customer has to wait in a long line to checkout and leave. The entire sales experience is personal up to checkout — why should the last step be any different?

MoM: Here too, I agree, tablets can be very useful and help to improve the overall in-store shopping (brand) experience. Actually, the payment experience, I believe, is one aspect of the customer experience that many companies (retail and non-retail) fail to recognize, understand and work towards improving. If companies want to ensure the best overall experience then they have to include the point of purchase as well.

Surveyed retailers estimated 23 percent fewer purchases will be made at fixed POS terminals by 2017. Self-checkout terminals, self-checkout via smartphones, and employee mobile POS will represent nearly 50 percent of all transactions. As of now, 44 percent of polled retailers are already modernizing their POS and checkout strategy. It’s best for the paid customer to leave on their own terms than annoyed and desperate to escape a long line.

Much like the headset, tablets are a natural evolvement of in-store shopping. Once retailers begin to utilize personalization and cross-channel marketing, tablets will become much more than a mobile internet device — they will be a high tech personal assistant. We may not be ready for holograms of ourselves trying on clothes, but that will happen someday. For now, let’s enjoy the integration of tablet-based personalization into our favorite stores.

MoM: For the most part, yes, tablets can be of more use and benefit to retail employees than not, but retailers and their employees should not become overly reliant on them. At a minimum, a retail sales person should know more about a product than a customer. It should be that simple. 

Also, something should be said about the post-sales experience (i.e., customer service). As great as an in-store shopping experience can and should be, with or without the use of a tablet, if the post-sale customer service experience is less than ideal then the in-store experience is all for naught. Recently, this happened to me, where I had a great in-store (actually it was a restaurant) experience, but in a post-sale situation, my experience went from great to lousy. And, at the end of the day, lousy is stuck in my mind, not great, and this should not happen.

As previously mentioned on this blog, mapping of the entire customer journey, from first point of contact to last should be a regular practice and viewed as a best practice. With map in hand, retailers and other businesses can 1) remove any and all road blocks to what should be a superior brand/product/sales/payment/customer service experience, and 2) include processes, procedures, tactics, etc., which help to differentiate and de-commoditize the said experience.


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