How to Build Your Retail Mobile Strategy: Q&A with Propelics’ Eric Carlson

Propelics Blog

We caught up with Eric Carlson, co-founder and partner of Propelics, a leading enterprise mobile strategy and app development firm, to discuss the challenges and opportunities that mobile presents for retailers and how companies can adopt more mobile-centric strategies. (Hint: It’s not just focusing on the consumer side.)
Tell us a bit about Propelics and your customers.
Propelics crafts mobile strategies and world-class applications for the enterprise. We work with Fortune 500 organizations across a number of verticals, including retail, pharmaceuticals and manufacturing. Regardless of industry, our clients are similar in their approach to mobile: each sees a large untapped opportunity for mobile use cases for employees, partners and customers and are looking for best practices and guidance on how to build a mobile strategy that works.
How has mobile strategy changed for retailers in the age of mobile?
We talk a lot about the “speed of mobile strategy” with our clients – meaning that because the expectations and technology are changing so quickly, you can’t take six or 12 months to lay out a strategy. If you do, your initial assumptions will probably be out-of-date by the end of that process. Instead, we help them build short-term, iterative strategies that build toward a long-term vision but also allow for flexibility in tactics.
Another fundamental shift has been the realization of the “longevity of mobile.” When we started in 2011, building mobile solutions felt like a race, with hundreds of opportunities to build one-off apps to solve problems. This created a Wild West of app development in which mobile success was measured by the number of apps in the enterprise app store.
Organizations now recognize that mobile is here for the long term and that core systems and processes will have to change in light of this. Instead of just bolting on another channel, we’re using mobile as an opportunity to change how we work, communicate, serve customers and operate as a business. Customers are looking less at mobile as a “quick and dirty solution” and more as a way to go after much larger ROI initiatives, moving mobile from the IT “experiment” stack to the core IT operating strategy.
What challenges and opportunities exist for retailers when it comes to applying mobile strategy to customer interactions?
When it comes to customers, many of our retail clients have built experiences targeted at separate types: the “in-store customer” and the “online customer.” But with the ubiquity of mobile devices, this distinction doesn’t make a whole lot of sense anymore. To address the new dynamic, many retailers are working hard to create a uniform experience, regardless of whether a customer is standing in the aisle or shopping from home. A big part of this is thinking about how to use certain kinds of data to improve the shopping experience. For instance, if I know that Customer A just walked into my retail location, and I have complete access to their buying history, loyalty, previous complaints and web interactions, how should this knowledge change how associates interact with the customer? Can they be more proactive?
What challenges and opportunities exist for retailers when it comes to applying mobile strategy to retail management and operations?
The mobile opportunity for store operations, distribution and logistics, as well as for corporate employees, is huge.
At a store level, you have a large number of part-time or full-time employees who historically may not have had company email. Most communication has occurred through postings on a bulletin board or via a “store portal” available only while on shift. Stores are increasingly looking to mobile strategy and BYOD programs to encourage better communication, as well as training opportunities, across this group.
Retailers are also challenged with arming their store associates with as much real-time product and pricing knowledge as possible. The opportunity to also move away from single-function ruggedized devices to consumer devices in ruggedized cases with scanners is quite compelling, empowering store employees with more product, customer and other key information, but doing so through the device of their choice.
From a store operations perspective, mobile has the unique ability to move store managers out of the back office and out on the floor. This allows them to provide analytics, increase customer service and solve staffing issues – all from the floor. Those efficiency gains have been key business drivers for many of our retail clients. Our clients are also looking to mobile to better equip district and regional management with real-time mobile applications as they work from store to store, ensuring a great customer experience and high-performing locations. Our work with Appcelerator and Family Dollar to move a historically manual process for 500+ district managers to a new “Cash App” that now saves them hours of paperwork and data entry each week is a great example of that. Talk about clear, immediate ROI.
Any parting words of wisdom?
Mobile will transform businesses, and that’s especially true for retail. For organizations today, it’s not a matter of if but rather a question of when — and what they’re going to do about it.
Keep an eye out for a follow-up post from Eric on steps to adopt a mobile strategy – no matter what industry you’re in – in the coming weeks.

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