I have spent a good bit of my time, both in private industry as well as in the military, talking about the importance of “data accuracy” and “Data synchronization.” Typically we discuss the importance of sharing the the proper handling characteristics, dimensions, and quantities involved. If we are going to plan truckloads for delivery we need to know how many items will fit on a truck, or a plane, or in a container. If our dimensions are off, we may have too many, or too few, vehicles. Either way, it’s waste. The same is true and far more critical when weight is a consideration, such as on aircraft.
Lately, I have realized the importance of accurate data sharing and synchronization at the retail level. As more and more people are using “mobile devices” to learn about products the availability of the data, and the accuracy of that data, can either make, or break, a sale.
I was shopping recently with my wife and her parents at a large discount department store. They were all looking for various shoes, and there were some that were on sale, and some that were not. Of course, as in most stores, the boxes often were not with the sales tags, and some of the tags were missing. No harm, I just pulled out my smart phone and, using the RedLaser app, scanned the barcodes on the boxes expecting to see not only the product information, but also the available prices to compare, both locally, and on-line. (Yes, that is the best part of the app–comparison shopping right in my hand! It’s the sort of tool I argue JC Penney should embrace!) To my disappointment, more often than not the only product information that would be available would be the general manufacturer name, and nothing else. No price, no description. Nothing.
Mobile Can Drive Sales (With Data)
Retailers (and suppliers, and DCs… etc.) are missing the not only the point of mobile marketing, but missing the opportunity to close deals on sales.
According to a recent report from Deloitte, Smartphones influence 5.1% of all sales and for this year, that amount will be $159B of sales revenue. According to Jessica Binns, Contributing Editor for Apparel Magazine:
The mobile influence factor captures the in-store sales driven by consumers’ store-related smartphone activity such as product research, price comparison or other mobile application use…
Smartphone-toting consumers appear more likely to make a purchase than those who do not own one or do not use it to assist in-store shopping. When asked about their most recent shopping trip, nearly three-quarters (72 percent) of smartphone owners surveyed indicated they made a purchase on that day, compared with 63 percent of respondents who did not use a phone. Smartphone users were also more likely to eventually make a purchase: among those who did not buy anything on their last trip, 59 percent of those who used a smartphone eventually made a purchase, compared to only 22 percent of those who did not use one.
The opportunity here cannot be over-stated–customers who use mobile apps are more likely to make a purchase in the store, that day, than those who do not. BUT (and this is critical) only if they are able to access the information they seek–and that information is accurate. If they cannot find the information for the product, or cannot at least find the information about the product and your store’s pricing and availability, then I suggest not only will customers get frustrated but they are also more likely to not purchase a product.
Let me be clear–having the data available is often more important to the sale than having your price be lower than all competitors. If a consumer sees that your price is competitive, even if not the lowest, and they are already in the store, they are more likely to make the purchase in your store. Who needs the hassle of logging on, waiting for delivery, or even worse, slogging through traffic to visit several other stores.
Develop your Own App?
The study goes on to discuss the perceived value of developing a retailer-specific mobile app. In fact, according to the report, 34% of the consumers surveyed used a retailer-specific app, and only slightly more (37%) used a 3rd party app. There is no clear reporting on whether there was any overlap in the responses to these questions. For instance, I am likely to use a Best Buy mobile app to search for information about a product, and availability of a product in the store before going to the store, but I will also supplement my shopping both before and at the store by using 3rd party applications that will provide price and availability comparisons for me.
There are many companies out there that insist that the best approach for any retailer is to develop their own app and control the customer experience. There is great value in helping to shape the message, I am certain of that, but to think that, by providing an app for your store will keep customers from comparison shopping is to stick your head in the sand. Saavy customers want to know that they are receiving value for their money. That value is not just couched in terms of price, but includes the specifications fo the product, the service experience they receive in your store, and the expectations they have of support from you down the road. Some of this you can provide using your app–but some of it they need to hear (or read) from a 3rd party source, if only to feel there is some “objectivity” to the reporting. There is a qualitative difference between reading a company statement that you stand behind every sale, and reading on a review site that you have a solid 5 star rating for support.
If the supply chain does not ensure that they data throughout their network is accurate, then customers are likely to skip over their product, and maybe even their store, and go somewhere else. Data-synchronization is critical here because, while your own custom-built application may have the “accurate” data, if a consumer chooses to use a 3rd party application (such as RedLaser, or any number of other applications available) then rather than providing an enhanced shopping experience you are in some sense leaving the customers with a feeling of dis-satisfaction.
Sadly, many companies still don’t see the inherent value of data synchronization to the distribution side of the supply chain. Perhaps now, as retailers are seeing the direct sales benefit of accurate information, the push will begin to make it’s way back through the supply chain.
Photo: used with Creative Commons license, created by estherase Esther Simpson.