Mobile Retail Hurdles - And How Businesses in the Middle East can Overcome Them

By: Manish Bhardwaj, Sr. Marketing Manager, Middle East and Turkey at Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company

In the world of retail, success increasingly depends on the ability to provide a great mobile customer experience. Mobile customers expect a lot from retailers.

But getting it right is not as easy as it might appear. Small amounts of latency can seem like forever to impatient customers. A non-user-friendly app? That is a recipe for disaster. Here are the top mobile retail hurdles, and what you can do about them.

Gotcha #1: Customers download the app, but don’t use it.

It may seem obvious, but the app must deliver value to the user. Every business is different and therefore the benefits of the app should be different. At a grocery store, providing coupons will keep a lot of customers happy. But if you sell luxury goods, you are much better off giving customers the chance to join an exclusive online club.

When you’ve got an app that delivers value to your customer base, design the user interface for simplicity and ease of use. Then test it -- and I mean really test it. Get together a group of your target customers and let them use it. Monitor and interview them to learn what they think about the app. If the app doesn’t make them want to keep coming back, your work is not done.

It’s important that your test simulates the production environment as closely as possible. There’s no point in testing a retail app after hours when there is no competing network traffic. Test it when the store is busy so you’ll get an accurate idea of how it performs in real-world conditions. Also, isolate the various app functions when you test. Put the wayfinding capabilities through their paces independently, then do the same for the coupon feature, if you have one.

Gotcha #2:  Slow performance causes customers to abandon.

Designing a valuable app that users like won’t matter if the app performs slowly.

Although developers know how to design an app for the capabilities of most target devices, they sometimes lose sight of the importance of the network. But bandwidth is the single most important factor when it comes to performance.

When many wireless nets were first installed, the only app they needed to handle was barcode scanning, which uses tiny amounts of bandwidth. Consequently, networks were designed to provide coverage, but not capacity. Things are quite different today: Back office employees are running mobile point-of-sale applications on their tablets; companies are sending customers streaming media ads and promotions; location-based functionality is layered across every application. Today, you need both coverage and capacity.

To provide enough capacity, your network should implement the 802.11ac Wi-Fi standard. And you should lay out your access points with enough density to supply the capacity you’ll need.

Gotcha #3: Your company is growing, but your mobile app can’t adapt.

As Yogi Berra once said, “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.” Even so, you can be reasonably prepared for what might happen. The single greatest variable that retailers face is capacity. Small stores that get 100 shoppers per day too often build an infrastructure to that design point. But when such a store is successful, it may face 1000 customers per day during the holiday season with an infrastructure that can’t keep up.

Solution: Invest in technology that is standards-based, open and extensible, and you will be in the best position to respond to extreme changes. Also, when you go with open standards, you won’t find yourself locked into a single closed system. As new technologies come down the pike, you’ll be able to integrate them. Choose a vendor that has developed a platform with open, published APIs.

Gotcha #4: A skills deficit is holding you back.   

Many retailers focus on technology and forget that human skills are also critically important. In my experience, a skills gap often is a greater showstopper than a technology gap. Sure, it’s hard to hire and keep people with timely skills. Here are a couple of remedies that I highly recommend. First, look for a partner that has the expertise you need - trained specialists with experience in retail. They can help you move to an open and extensible wireless infrastructure. Second, read up and learn from people who are heading down the same path you are on. There are relevant online communities that are full of the wisdom of your peers as well as a wealth of technical information.