By Sen Sampanthar, Founder and CEO, ShopKonnect

With Christmas and the festive season nearly upon us, retailers throughout the UK are gearing up for what they hope will be a bigger and better trading period than has been the case in recent years.

Retail has been through a lot of change, especially since the economic downturn in 2008. Online and multichannel retailing have become more dominant features of the shopping landscape and the influence of technology has widened beyond the sizeable impact of the Internet as mobile phones have grown in stature as the predominant shopping tool.

Against this backdrop, ‘showrooming’ became a more common practice among consumers as they happily spent their time browsing products in a store, only to exit and buy them cheaper elsewhere or online. Bricks and mortar retailers have increasingly had to contend with this practice, one of the reasons why several of them eventually met their fate in the form of liquidation.

There is nothing legally or even morally wrong with showrooming. Even before the Internet made its mark on retail, it was not uncommon for a person to compare prices in several stores before making their final purchase.
Furthermore, a store is a public place that anyone is welcome to enter and explore what’s on display. There is no obligation to buy and there are certainly no guards at the door allowing in only ‘genuine’ shoppers with the intention to spend, there and then.

In many cases the impact of technology has made the shopping journey a lengthier and more complex one. The journey begins long before any trip to a physical store is made as consumers use their computers, tablets and mobile devices to undertake their preliminary research. Whilst comparing and contrasting products, they can also share what they are viewing with family and friends, especially in situations where a product is being bought as a gift.

Research evolves into a decision to buy and this can take one of several forms, from purchasing online to buying in a store. In between the research and buying phases, there are several other considerations and actions. For example: “Should I buy it in-store because I can get it faster, like, today?” “Should I buy it online because it’s cheaper?” “Should I check it out at the local store in case it looks different to what I’m seeing on the computer screen?”

Of all the technologies that a consumer can use to undertake their research and travel through the buying journey, the smartphone has easily emerged as the favoured device. It’s always on hand, is stacked with useful features for shopping, and enables fast and interactive communication with others.

Research by Google last year found that 79% of smartphone owners are also ‘smartphone shoppers’ and 89% of these smartphone shoppers use their device while in a store. With the increased adoption of smartphones, one can only assume these figures are now even higher.

This is why ‘mobilerooming’ has become the latest phenomenon in the shopper’s strategy and retailers need to understand how they can make the most of it and avoid falling foul of it.

Mobilerooming is the practice of using a mobile phone to begin, conduct, and in many cases conclude, the shopping journey. Consumers are increasingly using their smartphones to undertake a wide range of tasks: scouring the Internet, comparing products and prices, taking photos, sharing information, using social media, using apps, downloading promotions and making purchases.

This whole process means that it has become important for retailers to analyse and understand in detail the customer journey, not just pre-purchase but long after it too. By truly understanding the thinking and pre- and post-purchase behaviour of customers they are not only able to preempt purchase decisions, but also increase conversion rates and engender long-term customer loyalty through carefully crafted marketing strategies.

In the same way that retailers needed to understand the showrooming so that they could devise strategies to turn shopping visits into direct conversions, ‘mobilerooming to conversion’ rates are even more important for retailers to understand because mobile devices are now so pivotal in decision-making and store visits aren’t even necessary!

So how can this understanding be achieved?

Through automated analytics tools, such as customer behaviour management, a retailer can analyse the various touchpoints — at home, in-store or on the move - and measure how effectively staff members are engaging with customers.

They can also understand how other factors have influenced the shopper’s behaviour; for example, a great customer experience offered by a helpful member of staff, a packaged promotion personalised to the customer or the ease with which the sale was made.

Retailers also have the ability to positively influence customer behaviour based on historical information such as frequency of visits, average spend, purchasing trends and location. This capability helps merchants to engage with their customers with the interests and objectives of shoppers in mind at the appropriate time and place.

In summary, consumer technology, particularly smartphones, has armed shoppers with the tools to undertake detailed research, get the best deals and make it easier for them to purchase. At the same time it has, to a degree, lengthened and complicated the process for consumers and also made it more challenging for retailers to really know their shoppers. By tapping into their customers’ behaviours through their own analytical and personalised ‘reach out’ tools, retailers can keep apace with the game of ‘cat and mouse’ shopping.