Mobile payments, in-store tracking among key trends to watch

The retail environment continues to evolve, as new technology changes the way merchants connect with consumers.

Retailers can expect mobile POS, in-store location tracking and urban-format stores to be among the top trends that most heavily impact the digital and in-store shopping experience looking ahead, according to a new study by Control Group, a strategy and tech design firm.

Consumers never leave home without their smartphones and retailers are developing creative technologies to connect with shoppers from their mobile devices. Mobile payment systems, in particular, have become a leading trend in retail. The Control Group study found that the success of mobile payment apps is tied to the retailer's ability to provide flexible and custom delivery options that are convenient for the customer.

Starbucks (NASDAQ: SBUX) has been the frontrunner in mobile payments within the restaurant industry, and reports that 14 percent of all purchases are processed through its app. Last summer, CEO Howard Schultz revealed the company was ringing up 2.1 million mobile payment transactions each week.

Location-based technologies are also growing in popularity among retailers as a way to send offers and messages to customers who are using their mobile phones while shopping. These proximity-aware technologies make it easier for merchants to understand how shoppers navigate stores, then use this data to provide service, communicate deals and offer multiple payment options.

Apple's (NASDQ: AAPL) iBeacon technology has been a leader in the location-tracking segment. Apple stores are outfitted with small Bluetooth Low-Energy (BLE) devices called beacons at appropriate points in a store. When a customer comes close enough, a beacon will send a message to the phone, such as an offer, coupon or marketing message.

Urban format stores rank as another strong trend in retailing, as merchants struggle to lure shoppers back into stores as they compete with online shopping. The Control Group study concluded that concept stores will be key to grabbing customers' attention since people today work longer hours than ever before, spend more and more time commuting and have a seemingly infinite number of retail options competing for their time and attention. 

Retailers who have recently launched urban format stores include Walmart (NYSE: WMT), which in March opened the latest version of its small-format model, Walmart To Go. The convenience store offers the ease of a 7-Eleven but with fresh grocery and hot food offerings. Kroger (NYSE: KR) is also focusing on urban-format stores through its newly-acquired Harris Teeter unit. Kroger purchased Harris Teeter for roughly $2.5 billion in July. The Harris Teeter stores are typically much smaller than Kroger locations and are located in more densely populated areas than a typical Kroger.

For more:
-See this Control Group study

Related stories:
Retailer takes customer tracking to new level for the holidays
Apple rolls out iBeacon sensors in all U.S. retail stores
Macy's Shopkick test confirms value of iBeaon
Apple's iBeacons to let stores beam location-based offers to iPhones
Kroger to add an additional market, focus on urban-format stores

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