Skip to main content

From the high street to the screen: Mobile technology in retail stores

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/Maxx-Studio)

The in-store retail experience isn’t dead; it’s evolving. Customers have come to expect more from it, whether in-store or online, causing new trends to emerge.

Physical stores still account for about 90 per cent of all retail sales in North America. Consumers prefer physical shops as they want to see or try on the products before buying, and browsing is reportedly easier in-store instead of online. Meanwhile, online sales only represent a fraction of the total market, around 12 per cent.

These statistics highlight the tip of the iceberg for a number of shopping trends. Looking closer, there is a clear customer preference for ease of service, an exciting shopping experience, and an ethical, conscientious purchasing journey. This shows in shoppers’ behaviours, such as the preference to choose large, wide-variety stores, source ethical providers, and engage in showrooming (browsing in-store but buying online), among others.

For retail providers, this creates a number of challenges, many of which can be tackled with the cross-over of digital and physical, as explained by mobile experts from Iflexion. Below, we will explore more on how retailers are addressing these developments. 

In-store mobile solutions for retailers

To keep up with the market, retailers need to engage technology and develop innovative solutions to address their customers’ requirements for convenience, entertainment, and a remarkable experience.

In-store apps are just one of the ways retail businesses can grow, as customers are continuing to treat phones as an essential companion to the retail experience. Let’s explore how businesses can meet this implicit need and boost engagement.

Store layout mapping

Mapping is a great solution for big stores with lots of departments, allowing customers to avoid referring to shop assistants or information desks. Moreover, maps can provide information not only on department location but also about the number of items available. This can help customers access products and reduce frustration thus boosting sales.

Personalised communication

Customers can use in-store apps with personalised accounts. Aside from providing necessary information faster, preferences can be remembered and discounts applied with ease. This encourages loyalty and builds the customer-business relationship. In addition, you will acquire valuable statistics on your customers and be able to improve your product selection in the long run.

Product reviews and rating

With this function, customers can communicate, share their in-store experiences, and review products, creating a customer community that improves brand trust and increases loyalty. 

Self-checkout system

Mobile apps help customers avoid waiting in a line by checking out in several clicks. This aids customers’ productivity and helps them fit shopping into their busy lives. This combination of in-store and ecommerce services ensures flexibility and ease of experience.

AR solutions

KPMG predicts that by 2020, 85 per cent of all retail transactions will be AR-based. In addition to personalised accounts, AR can be used to interact with customer service chatbots, integrate with customer relationship management platforms (CRM), and enhance such in-store experiences as product selection.

Fighting three retail issues with in-store apps

With mobile solutions moving to the forefront of in-store experience, knowing how exactly to engage with the tech is a biting concern of many executives. Below, we’ll take a look at some of the solutions that companies are using today, their successes, and areas for improvement.


To overcome the challenge of showrooming, wherein customers visit physical stores to browse and then buy online, some retailers have taken radical actions such as blocking the use of mobile apps like Amazon in-store. Meanwhile, others are embracing the digital trend.

One such brand is the fashion house Burberry that aligned big data and AI with their overall brand strategy. The brand tracks online data of its registered customers to provide product suggestions and find similar items within their store. It also provides detailed information about how these products can be worn or used. Finally, it simplifies the shopping process by allowing in-store pickup and fitting to meet the customers’ needs.

While all of this might seem elementary, by actively engaging customers online the brand has continued to be relevant in the digital era.

Obstructed experience

Customers demand a high-standard experience, where they want to feel special and rely on brands to fulfil that need.

Starbucks motivates their visitors by streamlining the ordering experience. The brand’s customers can order in advance via a mobile app (My Starbucks Barista) and send their orders to the nearest branch in one click, avoiding all the morning, lunchtime or evening caffeine-boost rushes.

Here, the technology has the potential to reduce costs and save shoppers’ time by making the workflow more efficient for in-store staff. Starbucks additionally actively incorporates technology into their working systems—25 per cent of transactions are made by smartphone payments and about 65 per cent of the customers prefer using the Starbucks app.

All of this reduces stress for the customers and makes them more likely to return. However, for those who enjoy that human touch of personal conversation, the sped-up order pace may leave no room for it.

Lack of integrated personalisation strategy

The famous sportswear brand Nike provides a unique, personalised experience for its customers. With its proprietary app, customers can receive discounts and special offers, have a fitting room reserved specially for them, verify shoe sizes, and skip the line by checking out in the app. Having implemented the app in its stores, Nike has changed its selling strategy, connecting to its customers and increasing revenue with direct sales.

While successful, brands operating such an integrated strategy need to be committed to fully engage in mobile technology. This may mean retraining staff and employing more technical specialists behind the scenes.

General challenges of an app-based approach

Like any technology, in-store apps can have their drawbacks. When considering its adoption, companies need to be aware of the following factors:

  • Changing expenses. When developing mobile-based solutions, there is an increased demand for technical specialists to design and run such solutions, requiring budgets to be reassigned. Conversely, this may lead to a decreased budget in other areas yet increased overall profit in the longer term.
  • Staff training. New technology involves educating customers, encouraging them to use it and, in addition, engaging your in-store specialists to help them provide a frictionless customer experience.
  • Staff training. New technology involves educating customers, encouraging them to use it and, in addition, engaging your in-store specialists to help them provide a frictionless customer experience.

The wrap-up

For retailers seeking to challenge the status quo and adapt digital solutions, our advice is do so with care and enthusiasm. Take a step back and evaluate how technology can be natively integrated into your brand, and what features should be implemented to make your in-store shopping experience more convenient and exciting than buying online.

Veronika Vartanova, Mobility Researcher, Iflexion

Veronika Vartanova is a Mobility Researcher at Iflexion, a software development company based in Denver, CO. She writes on the latest trends in mobile app development and mobile-first digital transformation.