Why Is Mobile the Cornerstone in Unifying Retail Experiences?

Industry professionals understand how technology is changing retail permanently. While in-person and online retailers have traditionally opposed each other, there is no need. Implementing mobile technology in retail stores blurs the line between physical and digital. Can the mobile retail experience unify customer experiences across all touchpoints?

What Is the Mobile Retail Experience?

Currently, mobile technology is one of the main drivers of the changing retail experience. It reshapes the standard customer journey by prioritising on-demand, remote interactions between consumers and stores.

The mobile retail experience is thriving because mobile device penetration has skyrocketed across all demographics. In 2021, roughly 92% of people in the United Kingdom had smartphones. Consequently, most retail channels integrated this technology to some extent.

While digitalisation has driven transformation, few technologies have been as impactful as mobile. In the second quarter of 2023, 73% of online retail purchases in the U.K. came from mobile devices — desktop computers only accounted for 27% of the total. Smartphones and tablets, Internet of Things (IoT) devices, and artificial intelligence have reshaped consumer behaviour.

Industry professionals sometimes assume mobile technology eliminates the need for in-person stores entirely. While they are technically correct, consumer behaviour indicates otherwise. In fact, although nearly 75% of people begin shopping online, brick-and-mortar stores still account for 85% of all retail sales.

In reality, the mobile retail experience does not eliminate the need for physical stores — rather, it connects and enhances omnichannel approaches. Deploying mobile technology in stores allows retailers to guide customers’ behaviour and their journey.

Examples of Mobile Technology in Retail Stores

While most retailers know how to leverage smartphones, mobile apps and tablets, they may be unfamiliar with alternate mobile technologies. These tools can be as simple as a tracking device or as complex as an algorithm-powered assistant.

Internet of Things

Mobile IoT devices include wearables and sensors. Retailers can use this technology in packaging or on consumers to track inventory and enable contactless purchases. When people place an item in their cart and walk past the automated checkout, stock counts update to reflect real-time changes.

Augmented Reality 

Retailers can leverage augmented reality to enable pre-purchase product visualisation for e-commerce offerings. Buyers can use their mobile devices’ cameras to place an item in front of them virtually, allowing them to review its texture, dimensions and colour.

Artificial Intelligence 

AI empowers purchasing decisions and supports associates. If an item is out of stock, an employee can use the algorithm-powered camera on their mobile point-of-sale (POS) system to identify alternatives immediately. 

Retailers can even integrate AI into their mobile apps to improve the customer experience. 

It would enable customers to try on clothes virtually, get assistance from a chatbot or find specific products without ever taking a step. 

How Mobile Technology Is Changing Retail

The increasing prevalence of mobile technology in stores is prompting many retailers to undergo a digital transformation. These innovations make it clear to see how technology is changing retail.

Location-Based Services 

Retailers can leverage location-based mobile services for advertisements and offerings. Additionally, they can connect with shoppers by displaying store-specific offers, stock counts, and deals on their websites to appeal to customers anywhere and anytime, revolutionising marketing and the buying experience.

Contactless Checkout  

Consumers can browse aisles, purchase products and load their bags into the back of their car without ever having to step foot in a brick-and-mortar building. Mobile technology enables curbside pickup and contactless payments, streamlining checkout.

E-Commerce Shopping

Buyers can use mobile technology to browse products, check reviews and make purchases at their own pace. Being able to continue their journey on various devices regardless of location or time standardises their experiences.

Employee Management

Employers can digitalise administrative processes using smartphones, mobile POS and IoT devices. Now, they can schedule workers and monitor performance remotely, simplifying retail tech stacks and management interactions.

The Benefits of Using Mobile Technology in Retail Stores 

While shopper behaviour indicates people still prefer to make purchases in person, digital interactions are still crucial. After all, 61% of adult consumers believe mobile shopping is an essential convenience. For the most part, U.K. residents are more likely to be loyal to stores that offer online experiences.

On top of growing more loyal, customers become more willing to part with their money. In fact, seven in 10 people report they’ll spend more at businesses that simplify the checkout experience. Apparently, the convenience of mobile can make people less price sensitive.  

Although deploying mobile technology in retail stores does not necessarily reduce in-person traffic, it still lessens retailers’ reliance on manual labour because it makes most human interactions redundant. Consequently, it allows brick-and-mortar stores to shrink operational costs while maintaining the customer experience.

Perceived expertise is another substantial benefit — associates who can look up products on their handheld POS system instead of returning to checkout appear more informed and capable. Since over nine in 10 older consumers report knowledgeable retail employees improve their experience, employers would undoubtedly increase satisfaction rates.

Shoppers generate data whenever they interact with retail apps or websites on their mobile devices, so retailers will inevitably collect a tremendous amount of valuable information. The insights they gain on purchasing preferences and buying behaviour can lead to improved marketing and more accurate offerings. In other words, it can increase sales.

At the very least, this technology enables retailers to expand their brand reach and awareness, potentially increasing their revenue. Around 63% of organic search engine visits came from phones and tablets in the fourth quarter of 2021, proving most people begin the customer journey on mobile.

How Is the Mobile Retail Experience Unifying?

The mobile retail experience connects consumers and retailers in one space. Mobile technology unifies the customer journey by enabling business-to-shopper interactions regardless of proximity or time. Despite being spread across apps, devices and technologies, it acts as a centralised system.

Mobile technology blends physical and digital customer experiences. Even when people are in-store, they still leverage their smartphones. According to one survey, 80% of mobile device users in the U.K. pull up digital coupons and loyalty rewards at checkout. The survey also found 75% use their phone to view the retailer’s website while in-store.

The data-driven offerings, coupons, inventory counts and insights the mobile retail experience offers elevate their in-store actions. Moreover, retailers can use mobile-generated information on purchasing preferences and behavioural trends to improve the omnichannel experience, making it consistent across all touchpoints.

The Future of Mobile Technology in Retail Stores 

Consumer behaviour is determining how technology is changing retail. Since indicators suggest they prefer to blend omnichannel experiences and make their interactions consistent, mobile solutions will likely thrive. While in-store IoT, app, POS and AI solutions are already prevalent, the further integration of mobile technology in retail stores is inevitable.

Contributor: Emily Newton, Editor in Chief,