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How do retailers respond to the rise of the ?ROBO? shopper?

According to Ofcom’s latest Communications Market report, the UK is morphing into a nation of ‘ROBO’ (research offline, buy online) shoppers. 64% of UK shoppers now own a smartphone, and this figure is set to rise to 72% by the end of the year. Armed with this portable connection to the digital world from wherever the customer is located physically, it should come as no surprise that mobile is transforming the way shoppers behave in the real world retail environment – i.e. consulting digital devices for alternative products, prices and stores prior to purchase. The danger here for retailers is that their physical stores become expensive product showrooms, where shoppers browse their products before making their purchases later on the web, rather than making the purchase in-store.

So what is the scale of the impact mobile has on bricks and mortar retailers? Ofcom states over half of smartphone owners use their phone to enhance their shopping experience, exhibiting behaviours such as searching for online price comparisons, scanning bar codes to get more product information and researching product features. Indeed according to the IAB, mobile is now the second most trusted source of information when a customer is in a retail store. With retailers losing out to their digital rivals on that key opportunity to engage customers directly, it’s no wonder that some bricks and mortar retailers are viewing mobile as a threat as for the first time. They are competing directly with their online rivals whilst their customers are in-store.

However, it needn’t all be doom and gloom. In fact mobile technology opens up huge opportunities for physical retailers too. Retailers that deliver a single, consistent experience regardless of whether the customer is using a mobile, online or physical environment will find themselves on top. Mobile is the only truly portable and connected platform that provides an immediate communication route to the customer in a way that is contextual and location-based. With developments to the UK’s network infrastructure such as the planned roll-out of 4G next year, paired with the growth of retailers providing in-store Wi-Fi, the opportunity to create a richer multi-channel experience to improve conversion and collect data for enhanced CRM is obvious. This in turn can be used to satisfy the demands of the ‘ROBO’ shopper. So what should retailers be considering in order to turn this potential perceived threat into an opportunity?

  • Creating the right touch-points throughout online, mobile and physical environments to welcome the digitally savvy shoppers

If customers are looking for product reviews or features, it’s fairly straightforward to ensure a readily accessible shelf barcode is provided to take customers to a branded mobile site with relevant information available.

  • Preparing to take advantage of developments in improved data infrastructure delivered via 4G or in-store Wi-Fi

Faster data connections will allow for faster geo-targeting and richer digital environments, such as localised augmented reality.


  • Incentivising customers to purchase now with relevant offers

Currently,nearly half of smartphone owners successfully find and use discounts to cut their shopping bill to use in-store, and 74% of customers would be happy to receive promotional offers if logged into the stores Wi-Fi network. Using mobile to deliver these offers not only means the customer is incentivised to make the purchase immediately, but also gives the opportunity to capture CRM data for remarketing purposes. The key thing here is for retailers to ensure they can not only digitally distribute these offers but also digitally redeem them whether that’s in an in-store or in a digital commerce environment. 

The retail industry is on the brink of a perfect storm as smartphone ownership grows, connectivity conditions improve and the number of ‘ROBO’ shoppers on our high streets rises. It is up to the retailer to provide the right environment to be able to respond to this. If they do, they will reap the benefits. After all, who would pass up the opportunity to make new loyal, repeat customers and improve their bottom line in the process?

Steve Rothwell

Steve Rothwell

Steve Rothwell is a successful serial entrepreneur with over 16 years of experience in mobile, payment systems, technical architectures and IT security. Widely regarded as a leading expert in mobile solutions, he specialises in leading edge solutions involving new technologies. 

Steve is currently CEO of Eagle Eye, a world leader in transactional solutions for promotional marketing and vouchering. He is the joint inventor of the patented Eagle Eye platform – the single platform that manages the issuance and redemption of uniquely identifiable coupons and vouchers for the retail and hospitality industry. In addition, Eagle Eye was recently revealed as the primary technology supplier behind PayPal inStore, the system in the UK that enables customers to pay for goods and services quickly and securely on the high street. 

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