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Mobile POS continues to be the hottest technology in retail, as underscored by the  2012 Retail Technology Study from  RIS News andGartner. According to the report, retailers cited "mobile POS with payment" as their top technology investment priority for 2012. Retailers also ranked "developing a mobile enterprise and/or store strategy" as their second-highest priority action item over the next 18 months.

The strategic and effective use of mobile devices in the store is a topic that is clearly top of mind for retailers – and with good reason. After all, in-store mobile solutions offer clear operational advantages. With mobile selling, retailers can lower operational costs and increase selling space by reducing the number of cash registers and cash wrap areas in the store, freeing up valuable floor space for more merchandise. Mobile POS is also significantly faster and easier to deploy than traditional POS systems, while reducing training time for store associates.

However, the benefits multiply when you factor in the customer engagement advantages, since mobile tools enable sales associates to get out from behind the cash wrap and start selling more by engaging directly with customers in the aisle. The ability to use mobile devices to instantly access cross-channel inventory, ratings and reviews, product comparisons, and customer purchase history gives sales associates access to a wealth of information — while opening up intriguing new models for customer engagement.

Choosing the right strategy for customer engagement

As retailers continue to deploy store-owned mobile devices in record numbers, it's clear that one size doesn't fit all. Instead, each implementation must be tailored to the retailer's unique customer engagement strategy and brand identity. Here are three customer engagement models that are currently being deployed by retailers.

Efficient and transactional. In fast-moving, high-turn softlines and hardlines, the goal may be to use mobile selling for more efficient customer engagements during peak business times. An apparel retailer that sells low-to-moderate priced goods to younger shoppers, for example, may value mobile devices for their ability to get busy shoppers in and out of the store quickly, handling transactions in the aisle with a swipe of a credit card.

High-touch, high-service. Luxury and fashion retailers, on the other hand, view mobile selling as an extension of the brand promise to deliver a high-touch, individualized shopping experience that caters to the consumer. Sales associates can provide a higher level of customer service by working with customers directly anywhere in the store to not only handle transactions but also view wish lists, customer loyalty status, or order merchandise that may be out of stock but available online or in other stores. Some mobile systems will even allow retailers to split store/Web orders with a single swipe of the credit card, enabling the consumer to, for example, purchase a skirt in the store, order a matching sweater online for delivery to her home, and reserve a pair of shoes for pickup at another store.

Educational and informative. In retail segments such as home improvement, recreational equipment, and consumer electronics, the ability to access detailed product information, side-by-side product comparisons, ratings and reviews, product availability, and comparison pricing is of paramount importance. Consumers typically research their planned purchases carefully before visiting the store, so it's essential to give sales associates access to all the information that's available from the enterprise as well as social media channels.

Access to rich product information can help retailers overcome showrooming by engaging with the customer at a more knowledgeable level — providing informed recommendations based on product reviews, comparing specific features that are important, and suggesting complementary products.

Evolving strategies for mobile engagement

Of course, the retail industry is still in the earliest days of mobile deployments, and mobile selling, while wildly popular, is a relatively new phenomenon. Retailers' customer engagement strategies will continue to evolve to keep pace with changing customer preferences and new technologies.

For fashion retailers, for example, it's easy to envision having the ability to access "black books" on mobile devices — an initiative that's already underway at some high-service retailers — or allow customers to view look books and Pinterest pages on tablets, which are ideally suited to display rich visual information. Apparel sales associates could also work with shoppers to not only select merchandise but also build virtual wardrobes, visually demonstrating to a shopper how she could create a dozen new outfits simply by purchasing an item or two that could be coordinated with her previous purchases.

Regardless of how the future unfolds, two things are obvious: Mobile selling is quickly rewriting the rules for how retailers engage with consumers in the store — and the possibilities for this technology will continue to unfold at a dizzying pace.

Jerry Rightmer is president and CEO of Starmount, a provider of technology-driven retail solutions specializing in mobile POS and interactive kiosks

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