Jon Thomas
Jon Thomas
Communications Director

Bridging the Gap Between Digital, Mobile and In-Store Experiences

This post originally appeared in our January ’13 issue of “Live Report from the Future of Marketing,” our monthly Post-Advertising newsletter. Subscribe for free here.

In the mid-’90s I was a teenager just entering high school. I loved computers, and the emergence of the Internet simply astounded me. I would spend hours on Prodigy, then AOL, chatting away and browsing every corner of the emerging web.   

My big prediction was that there would come a day when we’d go to the mall online. We’d walk a character through the mall, entering shops where we could buy real items. Turns out it wasn’t that bold a prediction, as I wasn’t far off.

Today e-commerce has become a formidable challenger to brick-and-mortar stores, which rely on customers getting dressed (it’s harder than you think), leaving their houses, driving to the store, finding parking and dealing with store employees who are too eager or absent to be of any assistance, only to realize the item is out of stock. But in the early days of the web, it wasn’t clear that anyone would ever buy anything online. Who would you be buying from? How would you pay, and would it be safe? Did you need that item now, or could you wait six to 10 days for shipping? Why buy online when you could get everything at the mall (or so you thought) in one day? What if the items didn’t fit? What if they never arrived?

Just take a look at this report from a show called where they cover the growth and dangers of e-commerce and feature a very correct and forward-thinking Jeff Bezos. Wasn’t it great when we used phrases like “the Net” and “Cyberspace?” 

Those doubts weren’t enough to stop a new industry. Companies did achieve economies of scale online, and e-commerce continues to grow year after year as access to the Internet increases. Smartphones are more ubiquitous every day, so a customer doesn’t even have to be near the computer to snag that pair of shoes they’ve been eyeing since they saw them on Pinterest.

But the final bell in the fight for retail supremacy hasn’t rung. The brick-and-mortar stores that are still in there swinging are those that have evolved into e-commerce innovators, finding ways not only to keep up with Amazon (Target recently vowed to match prices) but also to offer experiences that simply can’t be duplicated by pure e-commerce; and it all starts with your phone.

Mobile + In-Store = Experience

Don’t blink, because if you do you’ll miss yet another evolution in mobile technology. The limits of mobile experiences seem to be limited only by our imagination. Apple wasn’t kidding. Whatever it is, there’s an app for that. 

Mobile has the potential to enhance in-store experiences by delivering special offers at the shelf, generating a shopping list and guiding you through the store by using the phone’s GPS, enabling comparison shopping from anywhere, taking and making payments, providing product reviews with the scanning of a barcode, and so on. In other words, mobile technology can allow customers access to the necessary information and let them take command of physical stores the way they do online. 

Your Customers are Ready

It’s one thing to develop innovative technology; it is another to get your customer base to adopt and actually use it. Mobile shoppers are expecting more from retailers when it comes to mobile technology, a recent study by Latitude found. Some of the highlights are:

  • 79% of participants were interested in having digital content delivered to their mobile phones while shopping in the store
  • shoppers of all ages are looking for a more comprehensive mobile-payment platform
  • 80% are interested in a “mobile wallet”
  • 60% of smartphone owners have used a mobile device while shopping in a store
  • 79% want the ability to virtually try on clothes while shopping in a store
  • 86% want their mobile deice to alert them when they’re near a store that sells recommended or sought-after items.


Set. Go!

The barriers between e-commerce and in-store retail are coming down. Just as social media will eventually become just “media,” e-commerce will eventually be just “commerce.” Now it’s up to the retailers to see who will innovate the fastest and smartest.

Have you seen any brands enhancing the in-store experience with mobile technology? Let us know! 

  • Kirk Cheyfitz

    The more I think about it, the more I have come to believe that the next big wave in digital innovation involves the transformation of physical space by delivering web functionality on mobile devices. This is going to be true of many public and private spaces—retail stores, homes, apartments, museums, zoos, art galleries, cities (with enhanced maps and VR apps now arriving on a smartphone near you), planets, stars. The possibilities are endless, as this article points out. So, Jon, as you so rightly say, the question now is not whether e-commerce will work (it’s only $1 in ten of all commerce), but on which day will all commerce be e-commerce. We’re headed toward a converged future where the Internet of Things and the Internet as we’ve known it bring the functions of search, social, commerce and content delivery to every person, object and place in the known universe. As you can tell, I’m pretty excited about the possibilities.

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  • bsimi

    Great post Jon, as usual. I have to say I love going into an Apple store and buying my stuff via their phone app.. you get to touch it, see it, scan it and then walk out. As this develops I foresee it becoming very dynamic and a great tool for the consumer resulting in more sales for the brand.. as long as humans are not cut-out completely. Nothing beats H2H biz.. human to human ;)

  • Jon Thomas

    Thanks Brian! Apple has definitely been an early adopter of mobile in retail, to a point where most technology civilians can’t find the register (like my mom when she wanted to buy me an Apple gift card). Humans are still an important part and an advantage that in-store retail holds over the web, so long as those people are knowledgable and friendly.

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