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Why Mobile is the Future of Retail

  • 16 November 2017
  • Shawn Farner

You don’t need us to tell you how important smartphones are — and have been — for many years now. They had certainly been around for a few years prior, but when Steve Jobs unveiled the iPhone to the world in 2007, the writing was on the wall: these little devices are going to be a big part of our lives going forward. And they have been! They’ve now permeated every facet of our live, from discovering new music to managing our money and, yes — even shopping. People shop a lot on mobile devices, and in this article, we’re going to talk about how mobile is impacting the retail space and why it is, indisputably, the future of retail.

Pre-Purchase Research

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The availability of a mini-computer in the pocket has given consumers a way to browse for items they’re interested in before pulling the trigger. It’s a phenomenon that didn’t exist for the smartphone, but if you walk into a retail location these days, you see it everywhere. Shoppers are standing in front of products, phones pulled up, to both research the product in front of them and comparison shop that store’s prices against other retailers. For shoppers who want to go in, find something and get out without any interaction with a sales associate, mobile devices are a blessing. And for those who buy items impulsively, they can still do some research at the store and feel content that the product they chose is the right one for them.

Anywhere-Access to Shopping

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We’ve all been there. We’re visiting friends and see some cool new gadget sitting on the counter. They tell us all about it and our first thought is, “Okay, I need to get one.” Before mobile devices, when would that happen? Your lust for that item might head toward the back of your head and stay there until the next time you’re in a store and happen to see the product. Or you might eventually remember you wanted that thing and order it online when you get home. But with the advent of mobile devices — on-demand shopping tools — you can place an order for something almost instantly. When you see that neat new gadget, you can pull your phone out, search for it on your favorite retailer’s website and click “Buy.” Retailers love mobile devices for this reason: the amount of time between seeing something you want and pulling the trigger can be a matter of seconds instead of days.

Getting Customers in the Door


We’ve talked a bit about beacons in some of our past articles. These interact with retailer smartphone apps whenever a customer is in close vicinity to a store and can offer up a little buzz and a, “Hey! Come inside and shop!” Mobile devices are starting to play a huge role in coaxing customers into retail locations with things like coupons and promotions, helping drive sales where they otherwise might not have existed. As more of these features get worked into the underlying software of smartphone operating systems, you’ll see even more retailers using mobile devices to entice shoppers passing by to come in and see what they have to offer.

Instant Customer Service

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Let’s imagine a scenario: one where I’m at my favorite sports bar with friends watching the Philadelphia Eagles beat the Dallas Cowboys. The game ends, we all head home and I realize that I can’t find my debit card. Do I panic? Not at all. I simply open up the banking app on my smartphone, tap the “Lock Card” button, and send a message to customer service to let them know I need a new debit card sent to my house. These little devices give us instant access to customer service in ways we never had in the past, whether it’s self-service like locking my own debit card or initiating a chat with Amazon to let them know the headphones I just took out on my run aren’t working. These instant support scenarios make happier customers, and happier customers are far more likely to buy from stores that make them happy. You’ll see a lot more stores offering mobile customer service in the near future.

Location-based Marketing

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Almost every mobile device has the capability to offer location-based services, whether it’s through GPS or cellular triangulation. When retailers start putting this capability to work for their benefit, we’ll see a lot of notifications popping up on our phones from nearby retailers and restaurants. Are you hanging out in a brand new city and looking for the hottest place to eat? You could receive a coupon while you’re walking down the street from the cafe you’re standing right next to, thanks to location-based marketing. There are tons of possibilities when it comes to location-based marketing, and as our smartphones get smarter and retailers become more savvy using this technology, we’ll see these possibilities realized in full force.

Check-ins and Loyalty Programs

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Ever heard of Foursquare? Well, I guess it’s Swarm now. Or is it both? Branding confusion aside, mobile check-ins became the hotness years ago and they’re only going to get bigger as retailers take advantage of them and intertwine them with loyalty programs. Facebook saw the potential for mobile check-ins and they’re now a part of the social network’s platform. I mentioned Foursquare/Swarm, and you can already see retailers and eateries in that app offering coupons and deals to new and repeat customers. This is only going to get bigger as more people become comfortable with checking in and letting the world know where they’re at. Stay tuned.

Think about where we were when that first iPhone came out over ten years ago. It didn’t do all that much. It didn’t even have an App Store at launch! But here we are, all this time later, and our mobile devices are doing so much more than we ever thought possible. The mobile tactics discussed above are going to be huge drivers for retail a lot faster than we think because our smartphones are constantly getting better, and retailers are constantly getting smarter when it comes to mobile marketing. I can’t wait to see where it all goes — can you?

About Shawn Farner