For years now, many retail stores have gone through drastic technology transformations aiming to stay on foot. Big brands such as Walmart, Target, Macy’s and Amazon have heavily invested in technology solutions to fulfill the constant needs the modern customer requires.

This is the third of a 4 part series of articles about technology innovation in retail. In this series, we detail new trends and techniques being used by big players in the retail industry. You can check the other articles of this series in the links below:

Mobile applications

According to a research made by the German company LStelcom, the number of mobile users will continue to grow exponentially for at least the next 10 years. This supports the ubiquity of smartphones in our day-to-day lives and especially in our lives as consumers. Despite mobile apps being widely used for e-commerce, it is also becoming an indispensable tool when visiting bricks-and-mortar retail stores. The Guardian published an article in 2016, claiming that the future of retail sits at the intersection of e-commerce and physical stores.

Among the many uses that mobile devices may have in the retail field, in this article we are highlighting four main topics. These are being highly discussed by retail companies when considering the development of mobile applications.

1. Advertisement

Nowadays is very common for retail stores to have its own mobile app. These applications build a more trustful relationship between the customer and the retail brand. Combining with machine learning techniques and short-range tracking devices, proprietary mobile applications become powerful advertisement tools.

A research, made in 2015, by the American company RetailMeNot, showed that consumers that receive friendly advertisements from stores are willing to share more information, and are easily driven to search and buy more products.

2. Self-Identification

Due to the constant growth of smartphone users today, it is very common for consumers to constantly be accompanied by their devices. Once again, according to RetailMeNot, about 87% of millennials never leave the side of their phones. This data supports the idea of using smartphones as unique customer identifiers. Beacons, for example, can detect when a customer arrives in a store. In solutions such as Amazon Go and WeChat Cashier-Less Shops, customers are required to use their smartphones as self-identifiers or even as digital keys to allow access into the store.

Amazon Go store in Seattle, USA. Photo: E-Commerce Brasil.

3. Stock Search

Many stores today allow customers to easily look for product information or stock availability. For example, Shopcodes, the app created by Shopify, allows the user to scan for a QRcode attached to the product, and get access to in-stock variations (like color or size) and further product details. As another example, the Chinese company WeChat provides a solution that allows users to go to physical stores, scan and add products into a virtual cart, for an employee to later deliver these products directly to the user’s home. The payment is made directly on the phone.

4. Virtual Wallet

Due to the practicality of smartphones, it is easier today to go around with all your credit cards and payment information stored in one single device. There is no need to remain with a thick and bothersome wallet. This serves as the motivation for retail stores to invest in virtual wallets, allowing customers to use services such as GooglePay, ApplePay, PayPal, and others, to pay for their in-store purchases. This solution reduces lines and highly improves the customer experience.

Many retail brands have invested in scoring programs within their apps, encouraging customers to use in-app payment methods and granting rewards through gamification processes. In Brazil, the company ViaVarejo implemented a virtual wallet, aiming to abolish physical payments for in-store bills and to provide customers with a virtual account that can be used for deposits, transfers and various transactions, even outside the store. This solution has given Via Varejo high visibility among retail stores and has significantly improved its position in the Stock Market.

About the author

Marcelo is a Software Engineer at Poatek. He has a Master Degree in Computer Science in the area of Embedded and Digital Systems, focusing on Monitoring and Control of SDRAM Memory Accesses. Despite working mainly in C++ development, Marcelo holds a strong passion for other areas such as Blockchain and IoT.