Mention “mobile in retail” and images of the Apple store leap to mind, complete with the conspicuously missing registers, sleek product displays and blue–clad Apple “geniuses” with iPod touches hanging from their necks, completing your transaction without any need to wait in line. A seamless experience, to be sure, but just a tiny scratch to the surface of what is possible when retail invites the mobile device onto its sales floor.

Mobile devices have the potential to bring significant change to retail—but not necessarily in a way that is visible to the customer. When done properly, mobile integration will completely revolutionize the retail experience, but with the consumer none the wiser. Antiquated methods for employee training, employee coaching, in–store alert notifications and back–end system integration can be made fresh (and greatly improved) through the introduction of a mobile engagement initiative.

But the introduction of mobile isn’t just about providing information on the employee’s device in real time. It is also about revitalizing tired (and oftentimes ineffective) techniques for motivating employees. And we all know there is no better champion for a company than an engaged and motivated employee.

Let’s start by discussing the strategy. For this level of mobile integration, you’re using a technology already heavily ingrained in your employee’s routine as a way to better prepare them for customer interaction. Historically, employers have struggled to create an effective sales enablement platform—picture a hastily updated whiteboard in the backroom with information on daily sales goals, product focuses and store promotions–then make it available to employees and guarantee the information will be read and applied. Mobile integration eliminates this uncertainty by providing instant alerts to employees, and cementing the idea of “Before, Between, and Beyond,” which strives to prepare employees before a customer interaction so they have the necessary tools to assist customers during and after the transaction. The strategy then is to use mobile not simply as a means to a cleaner sales transaction, but as a channel to reach employees in a new, preferred and customizable way.

Take for example, your local Gap store. Gap’s frontline with its customers is its sales force. But how do they ensure a consistent experience? How do they ensure their sales staff has all the new information on sales, available merchandise, promotions, sales goals, manager updates, etc. to provide that consistent experience? Consider our “Before, Between and Beyond” concept. Our Gap sales rep, who carries her mobile device while on the retail floor, was just alerted of a store promotion on outerwear. This is information she can use during her upcoming customer interaction. Now she knows to suggest pairing a classic crew cardigan with the flowered summer dress her customer wants to purchase, and at checkout, the rep is reminded to offer the customer a reward coupon for adding the cardigan to her purchase.

Create “glanceable moments” on your employees mobile devices

Now, let’s take that immediate feedback a step further, from education to motivation. You’ve developed a method for transferring information to your employees, but how can you motivate employees to ingest that information? Tying store content into a pre–existing employee action (like checking a phone during spare moments) helps establish actionable employee behavior. Stop expecting employees to read memo updates in a break room. Instead create “glanceable moments” by utilizing an employee’s existing behavior of checking mobile devices during slow moments on the floor.

Let’s go back to our friends at the Gap. A customer just walked in inquiring about a “flash sale” alert they received via email only hours before. Thanks to the store’s mobile integration, salesperson Jane received a similar alert. Even though Jane has been on the floor all day and has not had an opportunity to read up on upcoming promotions before she hit the floor, she was able to receive the updated information and have a positive interaction with a customer that resulted in a sale. With traditional methods of employee education, this would not have been possible.

Utilizing mobile in this way stands to benefit a myriad of industries–from tech and enterprise to hospitality and retail–though the following criteria help cement the idea that retail should be the first industry to truly embrace this kind of integration:

  • Focus on the customer – Every decision made in retail is meant to better serve the customer, mobile integration included. The face-to-face element involved in retail customer service makes the process infinitely more difficult than other industries. Because of this, sales reps must have instant access to information changes, ensuring they are always providing customers (disgruntled or otherwise) with the most current product information, promotions and store policies.
  • On the job training – Bringing mobile into the workplace provides a unique opportunity to “learn where you earn.” Studies have shown that memory recall was 15 percent higher for employees who are trained and educated in the same atmosphere they work. In our case, this means employees who are regularly learning while on the sales floor are going to be more likely to remember what they learned than those who were trained and educated in a back room or offsite training facility.
  • Time and cost savings – Integrating mobile can provide huge cost savings for retailers. Closing the store or pulling employees off the floor during business hours to train can be costly, both in time spent and money lost. Eliminate those unnecessary expenses by creating a dynamic system for employee training.
  • Engaged workforce – Retail is an industry that typically has high numbers of millennials in the workforce. Because this group already has a close relationship with technology and is accustomed to interacting with it on a daily basis, they will be more accepting of a mobile-driven system.
  • Better feedback structure – Anyone who has ever worked in retail knows the traditional retail hierarchy isn’t conducive to feedback. Many employees only receive feedback when a complaint has been lodged with corporate. Mobile provides an instant arena for positive feedback, allowing employers to send automatic alerts to an employee’s device when noticing a positive customer interaction on the sales floor or an achievement within the company.

Even with all the promise that a well–integrated mobile system provides, we’re still just on the cusp of this trend. Why? Because successful implementation requires more than just desire–it demands in–depth understanding of the process and of your user (i.e. your employee). For example, not all employees are motivated by competition. Some employees are more relationally motivated, yet reward systems in a retail setting have historically been based around competition (think employee leaderboards). Your mobile application must find a way to incorporate all variations of motivation to allow all parties to engage, and do so in a way that ignites their personal motivation triggers.

Your mobile application must ignite personal motivation triggers

Once you have a firm understanding of where you are headed, you need to design a mobile application that will successfully alter employee behavior, and will drive employees to look at your app rather than social media, email and text during those precious glance-able moments. The best way to create this change is to build an app so relevant to their existing behavior patterns that it compels employees to look.

Mobile integration in the retail setting is on the horizon. Don’t hang back until you’re forced to integrate mobile. Instead do so proactively, and you’ll find that active use of mobile systems in retail will help foster an engaged and motivated workforce–one that will make a positive impression on customers, increase sales and positively impact your retail location’s bottom line.

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