Evolution: Tracking the changing high street


By Hooman Mazaheri, global service provider outreach director, GSMA

Our high streets are changing. Online shopping is leading the way in convenience and accessibility, getting the products we want to us in increasingly shorter timeframes. As a result, shoppers are now looking for a different kind of brick and mortar shopping experience, where the focus is on engagement and personalisation.

Mobile provides the perfect channel for retailers to create new in-store experiences and drive footfall to their brick and mortar stores. As portable devices, they can drive convergence between services, creating a new ‘offline online’ experience. For example, take Starbucks’ Mobile Order & Pay app. You use the app to order and pay for your coffee on route to a Starbucks shop, then simply drop in to pick up your order and go on your way. Mobile is no longer just another channel for retail; it’s quickly becoming central to the omni-channel shopping experience.

Posing challenges

These new services are exciting, but they also pose challenges to retailers and shoppers. The latest high profile hacks of Home Depot, Talk Talk, and others should put data security front of mind for retailers. But shoppers also need to be aware of the data they’re sharing to take part in these experiences, and how it can be secured.

One popular strategy to engage consumers on the high street is integration with social media. We’re constantly glued to our smartphones for the latest posts, tweets, and photo updates; this provides a useful extra channel for retailers to offer us new content and offers. But in order for this content to be relevant, and therefore push sales, then the retailer has to have some awareness of the shopper’s behaviour in the store. The easiest way to track this is through location.

Many in-store engagement technologies rely on geo-location tracking, so retailers can send push notifications to a shopper’s phone when they physically pass an in-store beacon for example. These notifications can be used to interrupt traditional social media feeds, or rely on the retailer’s separate mobile app, in order to share targeted offers and content based on the shopper’s location in a specific department, or the store generally.

Geo-location tech

In the UK, there are a number of retailers trialling geo-location technologies. Last summer, Tesco announced its largest iBeacon trial, which provided customers with discount coupons for ice cream when they passed by one of 270 stores across London. Cosmetics retailer Lush also announced plans to drive customer engagement through in-store Wi-Fi, allowing customer devices to stream live feeds from events at other Lush locations.

These socially driven technologies will become increasing popular in future years, especially as more mobile digital commerce services come to the high street. Mobile payment services like Apple Pay have paved the way for more digitally-native services, like Etisalat’s Virtual Mall, which allows customers to browse an interactive grocery store and pay using their mobile phone. The way we browse, shop, and pay has already adapted to our smartphones.

However, there is still work to be done to persuade customers to get on board with these new in-store shopping experiences. Customers want their offline shopping to have the same targeted, personalised benefits of online shopping; in fact, 94% of consumers are likely to save personalised mobile wallet offers and coupons [iVend].  For a growing number of customers, this extends to geo-location tracking technologies as well. For example, 26% would like personalised loyalty scheme offers sent direct to their mobile phone when they enter a store.

Irritation and distrust

Despite this, there is an underlying distrust of this kind of tracking technology.

We regularly hear about consumers becoming irritated when push notifications appear without their consent, or outraged when advertising or retailers track them without their permission. The safety and security of their personal data remains a crucial issue.

In order to build consumers’ trust in in-store technologies, retailers must be respectful of their customers’ privacy and completely transparent with the what, when, why and how of the data they collect.

Customers aren’t fundamentally opposed to sharing their personal information with retailers. Altogether, 66% of consumers are okay letting companies know a little about them, in exchange for access to services of products [GSMA Mobile Connect Consumer Research Report]. But with high cost hacks like Home Depot and Target still fresh in consumer’s minds, they don’t fully trust retailers to handle their data.

Taking back control

Ultimately, what consumers want from a retailer is transparency and control. A secure login authentication service, like the GSMA’s Mobile Connect, can give customers control over the level or personal information that they share with retailers, as it requires their explicit consent. With services like these, customers can choose to share only what they feel is relevant.

Also, adopting an authentication service proves that retailers take their customers’ privacy seriously. It encourages complete transparency with customers over when and why their personal details are being shared with the retailer, while also providing a seamless way to interact with in-store technology like geo-location.

Technology is fundamentally changing the way we shop, with mobile increasingly front and centre. However, we should approach these new in-store digital shopping experiences with caution. The amount of data required for geo-location and other in-store technologies to work well is a sensitive issue, requiring both consumers and retailers to assess how their share and store their data.

The GSMA represents the interests of mobile operators worldwide, uniting nearly 800 operators with more than 250 companies in the broader mobile ecosystem, including handset and device makers, software companies, equipment providers and Internet companies, as well as organisations in adjacent industry sectors.


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