5 Ways Retailers Are Optimizing Foot Traffic Using Smartphones

Push notifications, geofencing and more

Retailers are tapping into the power of the smartphone to drive customers into their stores. Getty Images
Headshot of Molly St. Louis

Mobile phones. Two little words with endless possibilities. Not even Nostradamus could have predicted the omnipresent power of everyone’s favorite handheld device. Whether you yearn for the old days of family dinners where you actually spoke to one another, or you can’t live without Google Maps, Uber and Snapchat, you have to admit that mobile phones certainly have their uses.

Mcommerce sales are set to surpass $693 billion in the U.S. in 2019, as consumers get more comfortable purchasing on the go. So, you could be fooled into thinking that mobile phones would be like kryptonite to brick-and-mortar stores. But, it turns out that they have their uses here as well. Top retailers are tapping into the power of the smartphone to drive customers into their stores.

Here’s how.

Building a fence

Knowing where your customers are and what they’re looking at has been within a marketer’s grasp for some time now—online, anyway. For example, marketers have been using heat maps and analytics to follow customer movements and time spent on page, or sending trigger emails when abandoning a shopping cart. But now brick-and-mortar stores also have the ability to track and target customers.

Through mobile phones, retailers can tap into the GPS location of their customers and create a geofence around their store that alerts them when the customer is nearby. They can then send them enticing messages and offers to lure them inside. The message is personalized, opportune and effective.

Clothing retailer American Eagle needed to drive more foot traffic to its outlet stores, so it geofenced them. Customers in the vicinity of the outlet mall parking lot received timely notifications and money-off, plus limited time promotions that resulted in a threefold increase in sales.

Creating new realities

According to ThinkMobiles, more than 50 percent of smartphone users already incorporate AR into their online shopping experience, while some 33 percent are experimenting with AR in-store. The attractions of augmented reality are obvious. It’s eye-catching, allows you to demonstrate how your products work on a life-size scale, and generates the wow factor to pull the customers in.

But when combined with mobile, AR can be an even more powerful combination for retailers. It’s enticing when customers can see a product demonstration in-store virtually.

Getting pushy

Push notifications are messages on consumers’ mobile devices that retailers can send at any time, whether consumers are inside their app, or not. You might have yours enabled for news updates or Twitter notifications. But retailers can drive foot traffic by using simple push notifications to communicate flash sales, special discounts and limited-time offers. And better yet? They can be personalized.

Push notifications are picking up steam globally, as the majority of users have them enabled on their phones. Saudi Arabia’s leading consumer electronics retailer, eXtra is a textbook example of successful push notifications, having experienced 100 percent year over year growth after using them. To top it off, by personalizing the messages, the store has also seen consumers spending twice as much time on site as before.

Being more visually social

Building up your physical presence also means building up your online presence and generating a conversation about your store. Highly visual platforms like Instagram lend themselves especially well to retailers, as they can showcase impressive product shots and store displays.

A whopping 96.3 million Americans have an Instagram account and the average consumer spends five hours a day looking at their mobile device. If you engage your audience visually on social, they’re more likely to form an emotional connection to your brand, increasing the chances that they’ll stop in your store.

Getting some game

The concept of enticing consumers with gamification is far from new. Remember McDonald’s Monopoly? Retailers have been taking advantage of customers’ competitive streaks and rewarding them in the form of prizes, points and discounts for some time now. This “the more you shop, the more you gain” cycle creates a win-win for all. The customer gets a rewarding experience and the store makes more sales.

Sephora is an expert when it comes to giving their customers points. The company rewards them when they meet the minimum purchase requirement with free samples or points that they can accumulate towards further purchases. Knowing that they get a reward with every purchase is a great incentive to keep buying. And better than that? As consumers collect points, they progress through the tiers (like with a frequent flyer program) to reach higher levels of VIB (Very Important Beauty Insider).

Always remember that in-person and online engagement are all part of the same customer journey. Having a relentless commitment to enhancing the experience on all touch points will lead to more engaged customers and optimal sales all around.

@MollStLouis Molly St. Louis is a freelance writer for Adweek.