The Strength of the Smartphone for Empowering Customers
Mobile phones have evolved tremendously over the years, becoming a ubiquitous part of daily life. The number of shoppers who walk into your store with a smartphone far outweighs the number of those without one.
- Apps can allow consumers to find items in the store, or check out groceries without having to wait or receive a paper receipt.
- Mobile technology can improve the customer experience and let shoppers make their own choices, as well as empower store and warehouse associates through enhanced operational efficiency.
- Sam’s Club and other retailers are now testing augmented reality for both fun and function.
With this in mind, mobile phones can be one of a grocer’s greatest tools to improve the customer experience and empower shoppers to make their own choices with a high level of confidence. The pocket devices can also help remove much of the friction in the shopping experience.
From faster checkouts to augmented reality, many retailers have started embracing customer-facing smartphone technologies that combine the physical in-store experience with the advantages that an ecommerce experience offers. Some of these advancements were on display — and definitely a topic of conversation — at Groceryshop, which took place Sept. 15-18 in Las Vegas.
“I think about our customer, our shopper, and we know things about her. She has less time than before; she wants convenience,” notes Sepideh Burkett, VP, store support, at Carlisle, Pa.-based Giant Food Stores. “And we know she has a cellphone. She wants full integration.”
Answering an Age-Old Question
One shopper question can never escape employees: Where do I find this? Customers have likely been wandering around the store in search of an item long before they stop an employee, and now the employee stops what they’re doing to assist. It’s a frustrating process all around.
Schnuck Markets has introduced robots from San Francisco-based Simbe Robotics, named Tally, into its stores. These robots help check inventory and manage stock, but they can also improve the grocer’s mobile experience for customers. David Steck, VP of IT infrastructure and application development at St. Louis-based Schnucks, and his team can use the data from Tally in an app.
Other grocers are also embracing similar technologies, such as Grand Rapids, Mich.-based Meijer with its Shop & Scan solutions, and Giant Food Stores with Scan IT. Giant Food Stores, however, has taken a slightly different approach from that of Sam’s Club.
“We offer handheld devices that our shopper can grab, and, as they go, they can scan their items,” Burkett says. “But they can also do that with their own mobile device.”
Shoppers can then pay with their mobile wallet for a completely frictionless experience, or with another form of payment.
These mobile scan technologies are still evolving. Sam’s Club recently solved the issue of purchasing alcohol in accordance with individual state requirements, and is rolling out that solution now.
According to Iannone, the club retailer is also working on an item recognition tool, so customers don’t have to scan the item.
“It’s using AI and machine learning to figure out what’s in your cart,” he says. “It’s pretty easy to tell paper towels from soda, but it’s actually pretty hard to tell lettuce from spinach, and [our engineers] have figured that out.”
The team at Groceryshop compiled “75 Ways Retail Will Change in the Next Decade,” and this next way of using customers’ smartphones made the list: “Augmented- and mixed-reality technologies will be used primarily for fun/experiential in-store applications, but also for navigation, promotions and product information.”
Sam’s Club, among other retailers, is currently testing augmented reality for both fun and function.
At Sam’s Club Now, shoppers with children can make the experience more engaging by using augmented reality in the app to turn the shopping cart into a pirate ship.
Zurich, Switzerland-based technology company Scandit uses computer vision and machine learning to enhance mobile shopping apps.
“We can overlay the physical world with a virtual layer of information that makes me as a consumer more empowered to make the right decision at the right time,” says Samuel Mueller, co-founder and CEO of Scandit.