Mobile apps key to future of retailing - developer

By Ben Chapman-Smith

Shoppers are increasingly choosing to research products online before going out to make a purchase, says Sulabh Sharma. Photo / Herald on Sunday
Shoppers are increasingly choosing to research products online before going out to make a purchase, says Sulabh Sharma. Photo / Herald on Sunday

A major trend in mobile technology heading New Zealand's way is the use of apps by retailers to create virtual shop windows for customers, says the head of an app development company.

Sulabh Sharma, managing director of Auckland-based Sush Mobile, said New Zealand was lagging behind countries like the US where big retail chains were devoting more time and resources towards developing mobile apps.

He pointed to a company like Walmart which was improving the customers' experience with apps which helped them find what they were looking for more easily, ultimately driving sales from mobile users.

Walmart's apps allow users to view store discounts or new products and add products to a favorites list using voice input, text, or by scanning barcodes.

These types of applications bridged the gap between the physical product and the information people needed before choosing to buy, Sharma said.

"When customers are in a store there's often very limited information available about most products," Sharma said.

"If I see three laptops in the store but the information is limited, I can look through the mobile app and see which one is the best according to my needs."

Apps were now considered to be key to the future success of the retail sector, attracting potential customers from much further afield, he said.

Speaking at this month's South by Southwest Conference in Texas, Walmart's senior director of mobile and digital strategy Wendy Bergh told crowds her recent focus had been on "taking advantage of the way mobile can really bring the web into the store".

The Walmart philosophy was to have an Augmented Reality (AR) experience that was useful and interesting to the customer and not just a novelty, she said.

Sharma said the advantage to retailers of launching an app was that it would keep the customer in-store, rather than being lured away after Googling the product.

Consumers were becoming more and more forward by researching products before they purchased.

"Google can be very distracting. This is giving enough information to consumers so that they don't go anywhere else.

"This type of app won't stop them going elsewhere but it's helping to engage them with your brand."

Sharma said such apps were barely being seen in New Zealand yet, largely because of the speed and cost of our internet access.

"Mobility in retail is still under-used here compared to the US," he said.

"I think once someone brings this to the market the others will follow."

With Vodafone's recent 4G launch and the growing penetration of smartphones, New Zealanders would start becoming more mobile though.

"Within a few years, smart phones are going to have a bigger impact on the world than desktop internet ever did."

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