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Mobiles Changing the Face of Retail

Ask anyone to name 10 ways mobile phones have changed the world and few would have trouble coming up with a variety of solid answers. Today’s smartphones strive for much more than mere ease of communication—they are brilliant tiny computers, small enough to hold in the palm of one’s hand. Think about that; even if you’re old enough to remember life before mobiles it’s still very easy to get swept up in the tide of technology and lose sight of all the myriad ways daily life has changed.

Take retail, for instance. Whereas once a shopper would go to a store to learn about an item from a salesperson, mobile phone users have the entire Web at their fingertips. Not only do consumers peruse reviews and comparison-shop beforehand, they’ll most likely arrive armed with more product knowledge than the employees themselves. That is if customers even choose to leave home to shop.

Retail Reality

Technology has changed shopping significantly—not just with the advent of the Internet but also with the amazing capabilities of even the most basic smartphones. Wondering if you’re getting the best deal? Use your barcode scanner and take a look online. Want to see if those shoes were made under humane working conditions? Scan the QR code for immediate access to the company’s website and business dealings. Many consumers are becoming more conscious of how and where their money is spent, making easy access to information a help or hindrance to most businesses.

A Modern Approach

Retailers know that consumers are more informed than they once were. The most successful businesses are taking such knowledge and running with it. For instance, the US company, REI (Recreational Equipment, Inc.), tackles the topic of tech savvy shoppers during employee orientation. They and many other retailers also stress the importance of top-tier product knowledge in order to offer more assistance than a random Internet search can. Technology can also be used to advantage during business rushes when employees are equipped with card swiping phones that enable sales transactions right on the sales floor.

Slowing Down

In direct correlation with customers seeking both information and connection at lightning speeds, there also seems to be a surprisingly retro desire to feel cared for and heard. They want help and they want it now, but they'd also appreciate it if you'd ask about their kids. Retailers are feeling the challenge of riding that wave between efficiency and the customer’s need for some kind of emotional connection with salespeople.

However, the most successful retailers are taking heed by going back to a more personalized approach to salesmanship. Many forward-thinking companies offer great employee discounts on products and services so that the staff can become invested in not just the products but the company itself. Shared stories means sales, particularly when the basic, “Yeah I’ve sold a lot of these,” with a poorly hidden eye roll is exchanged for “Yes I own this and this is why I love it.”

Leveling the Playing Field

With customers’ abilities to learn so much about a company including the products they make, where they’re made, and how—this newer level of transparency appears to be having a positive effect on many organisations. For instance, if a company can’t offer the lowest prices it may choose to focus on exceptional quality and a lenient return policy. If still another has trouble retaining the best employees but does good work in the local community, many consumers will weigh such factors in.

And who doesn’t love coupons? To be able to download paperless coupons right to one’s phone is one of the best shopping advancements to date.

Yet, of all the changes in retail, it’s particularly interesting to see how technology’s forward momentum has actually caused some companies to go “old school” in their approach to human interaction. When most businesses once prescribed to the mark ‘em down and move ‘em out model, now it’s the personable and attentive employee who has the best shot of finalizing that sale. And if they love their job and it shows? That’s the sound of money in the bank.

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