What mobile means for retail: Observations and insights from Mobile World Congress

     Sharon Love

By Sharon Love, CEO of TPN

The latest statistics indicate 60 percent of digital consumption now happens on mobile devices, globally, so it's no wonder that mobile has the power to change customer behavior and expectations, but only if it enhances or positively transforms the customer experience.

Here at the 2015 Mobile World Congress, the theme is "The Edge of Innovation." It's a fitting catch-all that captures all the exciting sub-themes being discussed, debated and shared in Barcelona.

Co-innovation, connectivity, context and disintermediation (giving the user direct access to information that would otherwise require a mediator, like a bank teller or sales person) are among them, and are all pieces of the new ecosystem being created by the growing mobile lifestyle.

From a retail perspective, co-innovation and the work around common requirements for retailers, device manufacturers, telecommunications companies and mobile software platforms is leading the charge in mobile retail innovation. None of those entities can do it alone, so they are coming together on behalf of the shopper to make all aspects of the mobile retail experience seamless.  

Whether it's payments, bar codes, NFC, couponing or loyalty programs, there is an urgent need for fluency across the stores, apps and mobile devices in order to deliver against customer experience expectations. 

Dynamic retail happens at the intersection of traditional retail and emerging commerce and we have watched as shoppers have migrated from cash to plastic and now, increasingly, to mobile. With this evolution, improving security has been a key for the digital and mobile aspects of payments—and for the mobile financial services segment—but headway is being made around ensuring secure mobile identity, and here at MWC we've seen examples around this progress.

One company demonstrated using a person's electrocardiogram as proof of identity on their mobile device and allowing it to unlock their payment capabilities.

Apple Pay is co-innovating with McDonald's to bring mobile pay to their customers, using military precision and operational excellence to convert the drive-thru payment kiosks at their restaurants in the United States. Within 60 days, all locations will accept Apple Pay. The customer demand for this kind of payment is growing quickly and McDonald's recognized they needed to be out in front, and the need for a partner to do it.

Connectivity and personalization are obvious attributes of the mobile lifestyle. The behavior is centered on small devices that one can easily carry with them all day and, not far off, even while sleeping. Consumers' growing dependence on these devices is increasing the pressure on retailers and manufacturers to make sure they are delivering products and services that enhance the experience. 

During a session at MWC on personalization, Telefonica's managing director of digital commerce called the smartphone "the remote control of the connected life." Echoing the sentiment was McDonald's Zaki Fasihuddin, global head of business development, digital, who noted how the consumer's mobile "remote control" can bring more connectivity and convenience to the restaurant experience. 

From a retail perspective, the connectivity pertains to how (and how easily), when and in what context consumers and shoppers are linked to the goods and services they desire. Personalization is one of those ways, and brands and retailers are using apps and loyalty programs enabled through mobility to deliver it. Beacon technology enables a similar ability to personalize, contextualize and drill down to the individual shopper in a retail environment.  

Arlie Sisson, Starwood Hotels and Resorts associate director of mobile product strategy, explained the success they are having around the Starwood mobile app. By using their smartphone, Starwood Preferred guests are able to customize their rooms prior to check-in, choose personal amenities like pillow style, room location, toiletries and download a room key.

More and more, shoppers now expect these kinds of personalized, connective experiences from brands and retailers as we increasingly live in a digitally-enabled, mobile-delivered world.

At MWC, there is a lot of buzz around the Internet of Things (IoT), which showcases how easily and effortlessly connectivity can happen. Wearable devices (Swarovski Crystal has a jewelry fitness tracker called Shine, that looks like a high-end, diamond necklace), smart homes, connected toothbrushes (which not only tell you how long to brush your teeth, but send the data to your dentist), connected tennis rackets (capture data on your game—serve, spin, velocity, etc., and can send it to your trainer or coach's mobile device) and, of course, connected cars.

Machine-to-machine connections are predicted to be 10 percent of the global mobile connections by 2020. 

Ultimately the opportunity for brands and retailers in a world where the ability to transfer data will not require human-to-human or human-to-computer connections, will lie in adding high-touch value within this high-tech environment. Regardless, the end goal remains to enhance the customer experience.

Technology, and mobile, specifically, remains an enabler of a better, easier, more connected life. But knowing where and how best to deploy it will still take smart human interactions.

Sharon Love is CEO of TPN, a dynamic retail agency. Sharon has worked with top brands and leading retailers for more than 25 years to create strong bonds and conversations with shoppers and consumers and delivering on the agency promise to Reimagine Retail. Understanding and anticipating consumer and shopper behavior is more than a lifelong career; it is a passion and expertise.