The Rise of the 'ROBO' Shopper

25/09/2012 10:08 BST | Updated 24/11/2012 10:12 GMT

There's a new breed of consumer on today's high streets that indicates a sea change in the shopping behaviour. UK consumers are evolving into a nation of 'ROBO' (research offline, buy online) shoppers according to Ofcom's latest Communications Market report.

Smartphone ownership is set to rise, with some 64% of UK shoppers owning a smartphone today, and this figure is expected to increase to 72% by the end of the year. With customers now connected to the digital world at any given time, or location they are, it should come as no surprise that mobile technology is transforming the way shoppers are behaving in store. For instance, we're seeing consumers increasingly consult their digital devices for alternative products, prices and stores prior to making a purchase. There's an obvious risk for retailers here, that their physical stores become nothing more than expensive product showrooms, where shoppers browse their products before making their purchases later on the web.

So just how much is mobile technology making its mark on bricks and mortar retailers? Well, Ofcom states over half of smartphone owners use their phone to improve their shopping experience, exhibiting behaviours such as searching for online price comparisons, scanning bar codes to get more product information and researching product features. According to the IAB, mobile devices are now the second most trusted source of information when a customer is in a retail store. With retailers losing out to their digital rivals when it comes to engaging with customers directly, it's no wonder that some high street retailers are viewing mobile technology as a threat. For the first time they are competing directly with their online rivals whilst their customers are in-store.

However, physical retailers don't need to wave the white flag yet. In truth, mobile technology actually opens up huge opportunities for them too. The key is to offer a single, consistent experience regardless across mobile, online or physical environments. Mobile is the only truly portable and connected platform that provides an immediate communication route to the customer in a way that is contextual and location-based. Developments to the UK's network infrastructure such as the planned roll-out of 4G, and the growth of in-store Wi-Fi, brings an opportunity to create a richer multi-channel experience that not only satisfies the demands of the 'ROBO' shopper, but brings added benefits for retailers too. But, what do retailers need to consider in order to make the most of this opportunity?

Incentivise customers to purchase now with relevant offers

Currently, nearly half of smartphone owners successfully find and use discounts to cut their shopping bill in-store, and 74% of customers would be happy to receive promotional offers if logged into the store's Wi-Fi network. Using mobile technology to deliver offers not only means the customer is incentivised to make a purchase immediately, but also provides the opportunity to capture CRM data for remarketing purposes. The key thing here is for retailers to ensure they can not only digitally distribute these offers but also digitally redeem them whether that's in an in-store or in a digital commerce environment.

Create the necessary touch-points across online, mobile and physical channels

If customers are looking for product reviews or features, it's fairly straightforward to ensure a readily accessible shelf barcode is provided to take customers to a branded mobile site with relevant information available. Taking simple actions like this ensures that retailers are ready to welcome the digitally savvy shoppers.

Take advantage of developments in improved data infrastructure delivered via 4G or in-store Wi-Fi

Retailers must move with the times and invest in faster data connections that allow faster geo-targeting and richer digital environments. The likes of localised augmented reality gives retailers a golden opportunity to provide consumers with a second-to-none in store experience that seamlessly integrates with their mobile consumption habits.

As connectivity conditions improve, smartphone ownership grows, and the number of 'ROBO' shoppers on our high streets rises the onus is on the retailer to provide the right environment for the consumer if they want to reap the benefits. The opportunity to nurture a new breed of loyal, repeat customers and increase sales in the process is well within reach of the retailer who takes the right steps.