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Retail salespeople must evolve with mobile to stay relevant

July 12, 2013

Will mobile devices like these replace salespeople?

As mobile applications and sites increasingly fill each and every need of shoppers, do retail salespeople need to worry about their jobs? Experts seem to think there is no need for concern, only change.

Shoppers can now check if an item is in stock, locate a product on mobile maps of stores, scan items for prices and purchase items, all from their mobile devices. Some may question what is actually left for the salesperson to do, but in fact, the job is simply evolving.

“While mobile apps have become an extremely useful tool for consumers to find the information they need, they cannot replace the human interactions people experience with helpful salespeople in store,” said Carin van Vuuren, chief marketing officer of Usablenet, New York.

“And today with the innovations in mobile technology, we’re seeing more of an integrated in-store experience where consumers are browsing on mobile, while also being able to seek help from salespeople equipped with iPads and in-store kiosks,” she said. “This dynamic, omnichannel experience creates a seamless customer journey that may start with mobile browsing and end with a point-of-sale aided by a salesperson and next-gen mobile technology like in-store kiosks and iPads.”

Customers still want a person behind the screen

Mobile-enhanced retail
Mobile has only been improving the shopping experience.

Shoppers can research pre-shopping or even during shopping and make better informed decisions. They can compare prices and quality of items.

Some retailers see these advances and fear showrooming, or customers coming into a store to try on a shirt, but then purchasing it online at a cheaper cost.

Ms. van Vuuren believes that these innovations should only encourage retailers to enhance the shopping experience for its customers.

“Shoppers want experiences and they are often willing to forgo price in exchange for value that comes from service assistance or even the joy of being able to have the product immediately,” she said.

It is therefore the job of the salesperson to ensure that a customer makes a purchase in-store as opposed to online at Amazon. It is up to the salesperson to create a valuable in-store experience.

Chris Mason, co-founder/CEO of Branding Brand, Pittsburgh, agrees with Ms. van Vuuren.

“Customers are going to use their phones whether or not a retailer wants them to, so brands have to recognize this evolution in consumer behavior and adapt,” he said. “Retailers should not be afraid of having customers use their smartphones. They should encourage it.”

A salesperson helps a customer checkout with an iPad app

A new checkout
Another way that mobile can enhance the shopping experience is through the checkout process.

More retailers are replacing the traditional checkout systems with new kiosks and iPad checkouts. Shoppers can walk up to any salesperson in the store and make a purchase via an iPad app.

This speedy process definitely comes in handy around the holiday times when lines are typically out the door.

It also adds another point of contact between the customer, the salesperson and the technology. In-store tablet kiosk commerce brings the technology to the personal interaction at the point of sale.

“In-store mobile engagement is happening and becoming something many of our retailers are asking us about,” said Wilson Kerr, vice president of business development and sales at Unbound Commerce, Framingham, MA. “Kiosk commerce is very hot right now.”

More mobile
Beyond mobile kiosks, retailers have a large amount of options for mobile products.

One helpful feature for a mobile app is an in-store map to help shoppers locate products.

Walmart has been extremely successful in this realm with its in-store mode for its app. If a shopper has the Walmart app and enters the store, the app will provide additional options within the in-store mode, including allowing the shopper to view a store map (see story).

A screenshot of Walmart’s virtual store map

Another timeless opportunity is couponing. Whether it is delivered via SMS or a mobile app, retailers can always drive sales via coupons.

Kmart, for example, has put a lot of effort in SMS coupons that drive not only sales, but app downloads and stronger relationships with shoppers, in general (see story).

A personal touch
Even though retailers definitely should engage with mobile as much as possible, there will never be a replacement for the human salesperson.

Yes, a woman can look on her phone to see if a shirt is in stock at a store and to compare prices, but she will still require some personal interaction in the store.

Whether it is asking a salesperson for an opinion or for help finding the correct size or a matching item, customers still need more than their phone.

“In-store mobile engagement is red hot right now,” Mr. Kerr said.

That said, he still sees the benefit of having a human being helping shoppers.

“Just as automated phone systems did not replace live operators, there will always be a place for in-person sales,” he said. “People like being helped and nothing can replace good old-fashioned customer service.”

Final Take
Rebecca Borison is editorial assistant on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York

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Rebecca Borison is editorial assistant on Mobile Commerce Daily and Mobile Marketer. Reach her at

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