Chris Marsden-Jones, business director at Swan Retail offers some insight into the use of apps for retail businesses.

With more than 2m apps spanning the Google Play and Apple App Store, you’d be hard pressed to not find what you’re looking for. So many people own mobile devices and use apps, so it’s no wonder that so many retailers are starting to explore or develop their own apps – whether that’s to increase their sales or to use on the shop floor for business efficiencies.

“Instead of having to show the customer big paper catalogues, or try to talk them through the huge product offering that you have, you could provide them the means to do so at their fingertips” – Chris Marsden-Jones

Mobile devices are ever so prevalent in modern society, and an entry level device can be picked up for minimal cost.  In 2016, Ofcom found that two thirds of people own a smartphone and this is a figure that will continuously increase over the next coming years. So why do retailers want some of this market?

There are two major ways in which apps can be used to improve your business offering.

1. Producing or commissioning your own store app: This is a little piece of software on a mobile device that will allows customers to purchase your products from their phones, quite like a virtual shop front. So, for many retailers this is an untapped market. Your company app doesn’t have to just be an online store and it shouldn’t be. One of the main issues that businesses will have to face when it comes to apps will be getting the customer to actually download it. An app-based store will not be enough here – why would the customer go through the trouble of downloading an app when a mobile site would be far more accessible? Additionally, if the app does not provide any new or unique benefits over a responsive webstore, is there much point?

The key here, to avoid such thoughts is to provide an incentive. There are many ways to do this, but the one of the main options is loyalty, which is very quickly becoming an important facet to operating a retail store. Perhaps you could introduce a point based loyalty scheme onto your app, which would allow discounts on future purchases, or limited offers available only to app users. The app would contact the customer, either through push notifications or via message (whether that is SMS or email) providing them with information on their most bought or favourited products.

It could also be used as a way to provide the customer with company updates through these messages. Another option would be to use the unique capabilities of a mobile device. This could be done by using location based services to detect when a user is near your store, and let them know about your latest products or deals. You could even go one step further than this. The large majority of smartphones have powerful cameras on them, which could be utilised to incorporate an augmented reality service into your app allowing the customer to preview a piece of furniture in their home, with all of the customisation options present (such as material, colour etc.) Seeing their mobile phone as a plethora of ways to contact the customer is essential to keep them coming back.

2. Using an in-store operations app: This would be a piece of software on your tablet or phone where you’re able to undertake day-to-day store operations from your fingertips.  Although there are many different types of in-store apps that could be used, perhaps the most beneficial to a furniture store would be a customer ordering app. Instead of having to take a customer back to the till to order a product for them whilst having to remember product details, just take out a mobile device and take down the order details, the customers information and payment all at once. This will increase efficiency within your business and provide the customer with a better shopping experience. It will also eliminate the need for paper based order forms, increasing the accuracy of customer orders when messy handwriting no longer becomes an issue.

There are plenty more store operations that can be facilitated by an app – tasks such as price changing with the ability to amend prices as you walk around the store, and produce relevant sales tickets based on stock levels, printed either with a portable or static printer become quick and easy to do. Transfer processing is another example of this, whereby using an app you could receive goods by simply recalling a purchase order number and scanning products, or undertaking inter-branch transfers on the go. Each and every one of these apps will greatly increase the administrative efficiency of your business.

You could also incorporate a fully-fledged customer relationship management system into this which will allow you to bring up customer details on the fly, again, negating the need to either use paper based forms for data entry or a needless trip over to the till in order to bring up a customer’s previous orders or contact information. This incorporates back into the idea of loyalty schemes – a good loyalty and CRM app will allow you to sign up customers from anywhere on the shop floor, saving administration time and errors when trying to process handwritten regulation forms. Another powerful benefit of these apps is standardisation of the ordering process: by having required information in the app, all orders will be created accurately Everything is, quite literally, at your fingertips.

Another option would be to create the use of a supplier catalogue app. Instead of having to show the customer big paper catalogues, or trying to talk them through the huge product offering that you have, you could provide them means to do so at their fingertips. Such apps would include product options, stock, pricing, images with intuitive lookup facilities to ensure that they find exactly what they are looking for.

Of course, there are several ways of actually implementing apps – Swan’s own app offerings are developed entirely with the retailer in mind. Designed to streamline the retailing experience from customer special ordering through to store operations and loyalty registration, they bring the unique combination of increased efficiency, portability, increased accuracy and ease of use to your store.

With so many other retailers incorporating apps into the retailing strategy, it’s time for you to do the same. Join the 21st Century and give your customers the best possible retailing experience out there. It’s time to join the mobile apprising!