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Mobile Shopping: Buy into the Power of Smartphones and Retail Tablets

We are a culture of digital junkies. Just look around the gas station or the doctor’s office—even in traffic. We are constantly on our phones or tablets.

But how can small, independent businesses channel this focus on mobile technology?

A 2013 Google research study found that 84 percent of customers who use smartphones for shopping use them while browsing in stores. Even more interesting: almost 50 percent access data via their devices for at least 15 minutes.

Which is why more and more independent retailers are leveraging this digital use to improve customer service, instill customer loyalty and increase targeted marketing. Here’s how:

Mobile Payments

The most popular way for retailers to use mobile technology is to take payments. Many store owners rely on POS systems installed on mounting tablets at the checkout counter. And more and more are unleashing their retail tablets and using them to ring up sales directly from the floor, reducing wait time and making it more enjoyable for customers with small orders.

If you haven’t yet taken advantage of a tablet-based POS system, follow this advice from Pete Han, Microsoft vice president of US OEM: “Point-of-sale software needs to quickly and efficiently process payments, while hardware and software needs to integrate with existing back-office systems such as inventory and accounting applications.”

There is a small fee for processing mobile payments. If your margins are tight, consider a tiny price increase on merchandise to cover your costs.

Access Product Data

Consumers consider online ratings and reviews the most influential input for buying decisions, according to a 2013 Cisco survey. And they often research this data right from the aisle; 71 percent access content in the store. Make it easy for customers to find product reviews by creating QR codes (using a free app) and putting them directly on retail store displays. Free wi-fi access makes the experience even more satisfying, or use mounting tablets so shoppers can browse on your device. Choose retail tablet operating software that allows you to “lock out” access to system files and apps, and make sure the mount covers USB and other ports to safeguard against hacking.

Mobile technology can even help you tackle showrooming, according to Adi Bittan, co-founder and CEO of OwnerListens in Palo Alto, CA. Post a sign near popular or big-ticket items that says something like: “See this for cheaper online? Send us a message, and if it's the same product, we'll price match it.”

Mobile Marketing

Optimize your e-mail template and Web site for mobile use. Responsive design displays your content well, whether it’s viewed on a smartphone, tablet or laptop. In a 2013 ResearchNow/Swirl study, 81 percent of shoppers who received mobile alerts from retailers opened them “most of the time.” That means your mobile marketing message has a high likelihood of being read and acted upon.

You can use QR codes to provide access to mobile coupons or deals. Integrate the deals with your POS system and promote them via mobile e-mail marketing. To redeem, you scan using a QR reader app, and customers save.

Look Ahead

The next big thing in retail tablets may sound like something right out of Star Trek. Beacon technology allows retailers to know where customers are in the store by using strategically placed devices that transmit to and from mobile devices. This enables all kinds of new capabilities like pushing product information or coupons to customers as they browse items on display or allowing them to make on-the-spot mobile payments without swiping their credit card. Beacons can even push notifications to potential customers who are window shopping or passing by.

“The POS system is always going to be a vital choice for a retailer—accurate accounting, inventory control, etc.,” says Michael Trepeta, CEO of Mobiquity Technologies, a mobile marketing company in Garden City, NY. “The bigger consideration is to make sure they are thinking ahead about a system that can be integrated with the upcoming surge of prominence in Bluetooth Beacons. The cool thing will be the ability to then utilize transactional data at the register combined with a shopper’s in-store behavior—dwell time in certain areas—to create predictive analytics used to customize the shopping experience through targeted offers and marketing. Very powerful, very possible and great for the consumer and the retailer.”

Claire Parker and Margot Carmichael Lester are veteran business reporters based in Wilmington and Carrboro, NC, respectively. Claire has been a retail beat reporter for community newspapers in four states. Margot covers business for several outlets, including the Los Angeles Business Journal. Follow Claire and Margot on Google+.

com/+margotlester" target="_blank">Margot on Google+.

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