Why Merchants Need to Embrace Mobile POS

Mobile POS continues to be one of the hottest trends in retail today. In fact, in a recent survey, retailers cited “mobile POS with payment” as their top retail technology for 2012.

However, from a cross-channel perspective, mobile selling is far more than replacing traditional cash registers with handheld devices. Not only can in-store mobile serve as a bridge to bring ecommerce into the store, it can also provide unprecedented visibility to enterprise data such as inventory, turning the store into a hub of cross-channel convergence that unites the mobile, ecommerce and brick-and-mortar worlds.

Bringing ecommerce into the store is more than a luxury: it’s a necessity, since online channels have fundamentally changed the shopping experience. Today, when shoppers enter a store, they may have already done product research, checked ratings and reviews, and compared prices.

As a result, shoppers often know more about a product than the sales associate, who doesn’t have the same information readily available. The online tools and information that consumers rely upon are missing from the in-store experience, where more than 90% of retail sales still occur.

However, mobile levels this playing field and makes it possible for retailers to bring the strengths of the online experience into the store.

Saving the sale with cross-channel ordering

Today’s mobile selling solutions include features that go far beyond typical point of sale capabilities. Information such as cross-channel inventory availability and ordering, product ratings and reviews, product comparisons, a customer’s purchase history and wish lists can all be made available via mobile devices.

Of course, features such as cross-channel ordering have been available at some retailers’ cash registers for many years. But how often does a shopper actually go to the cash register and wait in line to find out if the dress she wants, which is unavailable in the store, can be ordered online in her size and color?

More often than not, she simply leaves and takes her business elsewhere. The point of need is in the store aisle, where the sales associate has an opportunity to actively engage with the customer.

For example, Urban Outfitters has deployed mobile selling and is finding it invaluable for assisting customers in the dressing area. If a customer tries on an item — say a pair of jeans — and they need the next size up or down and the store doesn’t have it in stock, the sales associate can quickly check availability on the mobile device, locate the item in another store or online, arrange to have it held for pickup or delivered to the shopper’s address, and take payment via credit card — all directly from the dressing room area.

Urban also has the capability to process a transaction that includes an item in the store as well as an online order with a single credit card swipe, thus speeding the checkout process.

Driving in-store sales with Web-based information

The ability for sales associates to easily access ratings and reviews, detailed product information, product comparisons, and other rich Web-based information is especially important in some types of retail, such as consumer electronics, sporting equipment and recreational gear.

For example, when a customer wants to buy a mountain bike, an associate can use his mobile device to compare specifications for various models on the store floor, check customer reviews, and check the customer’s purchase history and loyalty program status to see if he or she is entitled to special offers.

This level of service can help retailers convert more sales in-store and stop the “showrooming” phenomenon, where the store visit is just an opportunity to kick the tires before consumers ultimately purchase an item online.

These are just a few examples of how cross-channel convergence is changing the in-store experience, and it can be tailored to the retailer’s selling style and preferences:

  • Accessing customer wish lists on mobile devices
  • Viewing look books and Pinterest pages on tablets, which are ideally suited to displaying rich visual information
  • Researching community information that can help close a sale — for example, pulling up maps of the top 10 local biking trails when a customer is considering a new mountain bike.

Mobile selling is still a relatively new phenomenon, but the possibilities are nearly as endless as the retailer’s imagination.

Jerry Rightmer is president of retail software provider Starmount.